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South Dakota candidate wins apology but asks for investigation into allowing campaigning in state tent at fair

This photo of South Dakota Republican attorney general candidate Jason Ravnsborg with law enforcement officers at the state fair was posted to Ravnsborg's Twitter page.

PIERRE, S.D.—Sometimes the GOP's tent gets maybe too big in South Dakota.

Trevor Jones, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, has apologized to the public and to Randy Seiler, Democratic candidate for state attorney general, for inviting the Republican AG candidate Jason Ravnsborg into the DPS tent to emcee an event this past weekend at the State Fair in Huron.

Democrats hold no state offices and have been much less successful than Republicans in the state for decades. This year, Seiler is considered a strong candidate, based in part on his years of experience as a prosecutor under Republican and Democratic U.S. attorneys and Ravnsborg's relative lack of experience.

But Seiler said he asked Attorney General Marty Jackley to open a criminal investigation over the matter and is filing a complaint with the state ethics commission.

Seiler is a Fort Pierre attorney who capped a long career as a federal prosecutor with two years as U.S. attorney for South Dakota.

Jones was at the Highway Patrol's booth for "an official government department event. It was advertised as such (telling people) to come and meet all the officials of the department." "Trevor goes to the Republican Party headquarters and invites Jason to come be emcee," Seiler said. Ravnsborg "got to wear his official campaign shirt. . . He took a bunch of photos and posted them on his own website and he was speaking at the mic. I think it's a violation of state law."

"Using state resources to influence an election is a violation of South Dakota Codified Law," Seiler said in a statement. "I find it disappointing and alarming that leadership within the Department of Public Safety used extremely poor judgement in politicizing a State Fair event, the Department of Public Safety, and the Highway Patrol. Doing so put on-duty law enforcement officers in an uncomfortable and compromising situation. This is the kind of cronyism and corrupt behavior that has infected our state government."

"I'm filing an ethics complaint," Seiler said, referring to the state Government Accountability Board.

Ravnsborg (it's pronounced "Rounsborg") did not return messages seeking comment on Tuesday — or from other news organizations, reportedly — asking about Seiler's concerns.

He had posted photos, tweets and otherwise, on his campaign's social media pages, including one of him talking with uniformed officers in the DPS tent and this message:

"Awesome day Sunday at the State Fair! I had the honor of introducing some of law enforcement's finest! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!"

Seiler said he was in the Democrat Party booth Sunday at the Fair, also campaigning, and wasn't invited by Jones to the DPS tent.

So he called Jones about it in Pierre on Tuesday and Jones apologized, Seiler said.

In a portion of a letter dated Sept. 4 to Seiler, Jones wrote:

"I had no intention of showing support for any particular candidate; however, I know that my choice was viewed differently. I apologize."

Jones was not available to talk to any reporters on Tuesday, instead releasing a similar, if shorter, apology as the one he sent Seiler:

"Last Sunday at the State Fair, I ran into a candidate for Attorney General and on the spur-of-the-moment, invited him to introduce the Highway Patrol canine demonstration. It was a lapse in judgement on my part and I apologize. It was not intended to demonstrate support for any particular candidate and should not reflect on the hard-working employees of the Department of Public Safety."

A longtime prosecutor, Seiler says it maybe is a criminal matter. He talked to Jackley on Tuesday. 'I told him I was filing an ethics complaint . . . about using state resources to promote a campaign for the Republican candidate and to request a criminal investigation. "

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, tweeted that he was at the event and "Jason clearly was campaigning when he addressed the crowd."

A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves who served in the Middle East, Ravnsborg is a Yankton attorney.

On Aug. 17, Seiler was campaigning in Fort Pierre at the state 4-H finals rodeo weekend and was awarded a rodeo buckle by state 4-H leaders for his pro bono legal work for state 4-H rodeo the past year.

He was photographed with 4-H leaders and the buckle, while wearing his campaign shirt, which he was wearing because he was campaigning at the big weekend rodeo in his hometown.

But that's not illegal, Seiler said on Tuesday, because 4-H is a private nonprofit organization.

"That's different. 4-H is not a state-sponsored agency, there weren't any state government funds involved."