BOB MERCER: Obamacare in the Rounds - Former gov.’s staff worked to pass SD insurance law
PIERRE — On day two of the federal shutdown, which also was day two of registration for health insurance subsidies under the federal Affordable Care Act, former governor and current U.S. Senate contender Mike Rounds issued a statement calling for dismantling Obamacare.
That would seem to be a sure move by a Republican candidate in South Dakota. But it drew attention to an intersection between the Rounds campaign and his insurance business.
During the Legislature’s 2013 session, Rounds’ two main campaign advisers — both former top aides from his time as governor — lobbied for a new state law.
The law requires that Obamacare policies can be provided only through South Dakota insurance producers. It also requires that normal commissions must be paid.
The law gives insurance business people in South Dakota further reason to support one of their own.
Rounds is president and treasurer of Fischer Rounds and Associates, an insurance and real estate company with offices in Pierre, Watertown, Mitchell, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
Through two aides, Rounds had direct connection to the law’s passage.
One of them, Rob Skjonsberg, was his right-hand man during the 2002 campaign for governor and served five years as Gov. Rounds’ chief of staff.
Skjonsberg returned a year ago to briefly work for Fischer Rounds. Then he went to work for the Senate campaign as manager, technically through the GSG Strategies firm.
Rounds’ campaign pays GSG $7,750 monthly for services.
The campaign also pays GSG each month $1,625 for rent and $695 for utilities. Those are for a Capitol Avenue building purchased by Fischer Rounds last year in a buy-out of another Pierre real estate firm.
Meanwhile the Independent Insurance Agents of South Dakota, who sought the state law, were the only client for whom Skjonsberg registered as a legislative lobbyist in the 2013 session.
GSG was organized Sept. 20, 2012, by Skjonsberg and two other Pierre men who worked closely together in politics for two decades.
Former Sen. Bob Gray of Pierre is a past chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party. Jason Glodt is a former gubernatorial aide for Rounds and is listed as GSG’s manager. Glodt was GSG’s other lobbyist on the insurance legislation.
Glodt and Gray worked for then-Attorney General Mark Barnett when he lost to Rounds in the 2002 Republican primary for governor. They also worked together on many legislative campaigns
Skjonsberg said Friday that Mike Rounds is GSG’s anchor client.
“We’ll never take on clients or contracts unless we believe in their cause and they’re able to co-exist with our existing client list,” Skjonsberg said.
Election arithmetic favors Rounds’ nomination. The top finisher needs 35 percent to win the primary. He is competing against three lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates who split the Anybody But Mike vote.
State Sen. Larry Rhoden, of Union Center, state Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton, and Dr. Annette Bosworth, of Sioux Falls, are going great distances to drive their stakes deep among the most conservative of Republican primary voters.
Rounds’ Obamacare statement puts him with them opposing it. The insurance protection law? Rhoden and Nelson helped co-sponsor it and voted for it.