SB 163 Backs Away from Campaign Finance Transparency

To excuse their repeal of Initiated Measure 22, Republican legislators have promised to respect the popular will by passing replacement measures to satisfy the voters’ stated desire for campaign finance reform. Yet Senate Bill 163 moves in the opposite direction, reducing transparency in campaign finance.

SB 163 would strike from statute (SDCL 12-27-16) the requirement that organizations spending $100 or more on independent political ads must include disclaimers that list their top five donors over the preceding year.

In testimony before Senate State Affairs last week, prime sponsor Senator Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) and gun lobbyist Jordan Mason said SB 163 could save the state another lawsuit, as donor-disclosure requirements violate the freedom of association. However, I have to wonder: if we can require candidates, parties, and PACs to disclose all of their $100+ donors without unconstitutionally chilling the freedom of citizens to associate with those committees, then why can we not make the same requirement of organizations trying to influence our elections?

Senate State Affairs sent SB 163 to the Senate floor, but the committee has another bill in the chute that may make SB 163 redundant. Senate Bill 54, the far more sweeping campaign finance reform bill still pending in Senate State Affairs, strikes the same language from SDCL 12-27-16. Senate State Affairs has spent two hearings on SB 54; they will try one more time to figure out SB 54 tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10 a.m.