U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds tops the list for minimum net worth among members of the South Dakota congressional delegation, with a portion of his assets held in a private investment club that owns hotel properties throughout the Midwest, a review of lawmakers’ current financial disclosure statements shows.
Part of Rounds’ wealth is invested in funds managed by Bird Dog Equity Partners, a private corporation based in Sioux Falls that invests in and manages hotel properties in the Midwest. The group also makes some private equity investments, according to its website.
Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Banking Committee, is invested in two funds through the group, financial disclosure statements show. Through the funds, Rounds is a part owner of 10 hotels in Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The value of his stakes is between $361,000 and $815,000, a portion of his estimated $4.4 million minimum net worth, according to his financial disclosure statement.
South Dakota U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, the state’s lone U.S. House member, reported assets worth at least $3.2 million. Sen. John Thune reported by far the lowest value of assets in the three-member delegation, with at least $364,000. Both are Republicans.
Belonging to a private investment club — a group of friends, neighbors, business associates or others who pool their money to invest — is allowed under U.S. Senate ethics guidelines. In a written statement, Rounds spokesman Dezmond Ward emphasized that professional fund managers made decisions about the funds’ investments.
“Bird Dog Equity Partners is a private equity firm led by dedicated fund managers that invest in business and hospitality investments across the Midwest,” Ward wrote. “Bird Dog is a South Dakota company based in Sioux Falls. The firm’s investments and fund managers are publicized on their website. All decisions concerning the firm and its operations are made by the fund managers. Senator Rounds does not have a role in any decision making for the firm. His investment shares have all been reviewed annually by the Senate Ethics Committee and reported in his annual public financial disclosure reports.”
Mere membership in such a group is unlikely to cause any conflict of interest, said Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at the Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group Campaign Legal Center.
Members of Congress are subject to relatively little regulation about what types of investment they can hold and for how long. The disclosure of individual assets is an important tool for transparency, Marsco said.
The personal financial disclosure statements required of members of Congress and filed annually in May allow for relatively vague accounting.
Rather than providing an exact value of their assets, filers are only required to provide a range of value. For example, a savings account might be listed as being worth $500,001 to $1 million, or an investment account could show a value of $1,001 to $15,000.
Rounds’ disclosure report lists stakes in hotels in Chadron and Valentine, Nebraska; Oskaloosa, Iowa; Madison, Wisconsin; Bismarck, North Dakota; and Marshall, Shoreview and New Ulm, Minnesota.
Bird Dog’s website lists the following hotels as part of the group’s portfolio:
- Best Western in Chadron.
- Harmony Inn, Comfort Inn, The Niobrara Lodge and a golf resort called The Prairie Club in Valentine, Nebraska. It is unclear which of these Rounds partially owns.
- EverSpring Inn and Suites in Oskaloosa.
- Holiday Inn Express in Cedar Rapids.
- Best Western in Madison.
- EverSpring Inn and Suites in Bismarck.
- EverSpring Inn and Suites in Marshall.
- Best Western Plus in Shoreview.
- Harmony Inn and Best Western Plus in New Ulm.
A marketing officer for Bird Dog did not return an email Friday asking for additional information about the investment clubs.
“Bird Dog Hospitality Fund is probably, as a fund, not going to raise a conflict of interest,” Marsco, the ethics lawyer, said. “But there might be individual assets under that that do raise a conflict, or at the very least, voters have a right to know what exactly is someone invested in.”
Federal Elections Commission records show three Bird Dog partners made 11 contributions totaling $6,850 to Rounds’ campaigns from 2013 to 2020.
Rounds’ financial disclosure form showed his largest asset was not the funds — it was a Lyman County farm worth between $1 million and $5 million.