Voice recording raises questions over origin of Ravnsborg telemarketing campaign

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:02 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - A telemarketing campaign targeting the removal of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg could have come from a political player within South Dakota.

But uncertainty around both Ravnsborg’s allies and enemies has created more confusion around the campaign.

South Dakota state lawmakers serving on the committee considering the impeachment of Ravnsborg began receiving calls from Grand Solutions Inc., a political telemarketing company based out of northeastern Ohio on Monday. The calls, targeting state lawmakers constituents, were intended to whip up support for Ravnsborg’s impeachment.

Since then, Dakota News Now obtained a voicemail that raised suspicions among many lawmakers. The voicemail captures what appears to be a telemarketer employee who did not realize that they were still on the line.

It is unclear if the governor the caller referred to is South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. However, the call did refer to Ravnsborg, and it targeted South Dakota residents.

Lawmakers who received the phone calls and were able to speak with management were directed to a woman named “Angel.” A number of committee members were able to corroborate Angel’s voice with the one in the recording.

Angel Kane and Ciero Johnson II, are listed as the incorporators of Grand Solutions Inc., according to Open Corporates. Kane is listed as Grand Solution’s registrant with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

Jonathan Petrea, who identified himself as a spokesperson for Kane, said that the portion of the call that identifies the governor was nothing more than a motivation tactic by her to get the most out of her workers.

“She was trying to move her workers,” Petrea said. “She uses that tactic to increase productivity.”

Petrea said that no “politician, political campaign, party, or political organization” facilitated the robocalls, but refused to disclose who did.

Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham), chairman of the impeachment committee, declined to speculate on the origins of the calls, or who initiated them.

“We have a meeting coming up on Monday, it is something we are going to have to talk about. what the next step possibly is,” Gosch said.

Noem has been accused by lawmakers of inserting herself in the impeachment process. Monday, Noem pushed House lawmakers to release the investigative report in the fatal crash investigation involving Ravnsborg.

The Governor’s campaign vehemently denied any connection to the telemarketing campaign.

“There is no wiggle room, no doubt, the campaign nor the governor directed this, wanted this, authorized it, paid for it, anything at all,” said Noem’s campaign manager Joe Desilets.

Desilets did suggest that the call could have come from someone else.

Currently, Noem’s only primary opponent for the upcoming gubernatorial election is Rep. Steve Haugaard (R, Sioux Falls). In 2017, gubernatorial candidate Haugaard’s campaign manager Dennis Fusaro was embroiled in a campaign finance scandal of his own. Fusaro was accused of sending out mass robocalls to constituents in a Maryland county council race. According to the Maryland Capital Gazette, Fusaro was accused of sending misleading robocalls out about a rival candidate. A later appeal by Fusaro was successful, and he was later cleared.

Both Fusaro and Haugaard also denied having any involvement in the telemarketing campaign as well.

The calls are just the latest in a series of unlabeled communications to come across the state over the course of the last few years. Last year, State Rep. Taffy Howard (R-Rapid City) was subjected to an anonymous text campaign for her efforts to release Governor Noem’s security costs when traveling. Noem denied having any involvement in the texting scheme. That claim is still under investigation by the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

Unmarked political communications, and interfering with a state legislative process, both carry possible criminal penalties.

“We take the protection and privacy of all legislators very seriously,” said Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, in regards to the telemarketing campaign. “Since I have taken office in January of 2019, I have received similar complaints of anonymous robocalls, robo-texts, and/or death threats against legislators. We will investigate these new allegations of potential criminal conduct as we have done in the past... vigorously.”

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