Secretary of State Shantel Krebs has fulfilled her promise to bring campaign finance reform measures to replace the voter-approved Initiated Measure 22. Yesterday the Secretary delivered two bills: Senate Bill 53 to create a campaign finance ethics commission and Senate Bill 54 to replace the campaign finance limits and reporting requirements of IM 22. I’ll focus here on SB 53, then on SB 54 in a separate post.
SB 53 would create a campaign finance ethics commission (CFEC) chaired by the Secretary of State. The House Speaker, the Senate Pro-Tem, the House minority leader, the Senate minority leader, and the Board of Elections (without the Secretary of State’s vote) each appoint a member to the CFEC. Each of the appointees serves at the appointer’s pleasure; an appointer can boot her appointee off CFEC at any time, without giving any reason.
SB 53 limits the commission’s bailiwick to campaign finance laws, candidate financial interest statement laws, and officer financial interest statement laws. Complaints of violations of those laws go straight to the Secretary of State on paper. The Secretary forwards all complaints to CFEC, which must then meet within 30 days. CFEC may investigate the complaint, expand the scope of an investigation of the subject of a complaint to matters not contained in the complaint, and audit “any entity subject to” campaign finance laws. CFEC will have subpoena power, and give oaths, and take sworn testimony and evidence. Ignoring a CFEC subpoena will be a Class 1 misdemeanor (max one year in jail, $2,000 fine).
CFEC may dismiss complaints, resolve them informally, issue a public reprimand, recommend decertification of candidates and removal of elected officials found to have violated laws under CFEC jurisdiction, and impose fines.
Campaign Finance Ethics Commission proceedings will all be open to public. Subjects of complaints get notice and a “reasonable opportunity to be heard”—i.e., twenty days after receipt of notice of complaint to respond. CFEC will issue a written reports (which will be public documents) of its findings, to which subjects have 20 days to respond with objections. Following final disposition of a complaint, subjects have 20 days to file appeals with the Sixth Judicial Court in Hughes County. Dissatisfied complainants cannot appeal to the court.
South Dakota currently has no campaign finance cops. The only people who investigate state campaign finance reports are journalists. The ethics commission created by IM 22 would have had the authority to check those reports; if IM22 remains enjoined, Secretary Krebs’s Campaign Finance Ethics Commission seems a reasonable second choice.