With Senate Bill 163, Senator Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) is trying to drag us away from transparency in campaign finance. With House Bill 1200, Speaker of the House G. Mark Mickelson (R-12/Sioux Falls) is trying to drag us toward more transparency.
Where SB 163 tries to strike the requirement that organizations funding independent political ads disclose their top five donors, HB 1200 would require organizations and PACs sinking more than $25,000 into ballot question campaigns or independent political ads.
HB 1200 exempts from that disclosure 501(c)3 non-profits, organizations “from which any part of the net earnings inures to the benefit of a private shareholder, partner, member, or person,” and donors giving less than $5,000.
South Dakotans have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of retribution, and HB 1200 would remove that protection.
The IRS has determined that citizens who make charitable contributions to 501(c) issue advocacy organizations are entitled to anonymous free speech, because of the sensitive nature of the issues that these groups advocate for or against. Several court cases have upheld this right.
HB 1200 would force all 501(c) organizations to either spend less than $50,000 on their issues, which would limit their impact, OR to place the names, addresses, and employers of their supporters on a searchable government database. Imagine if everyone knew your name, home address, employer, and the amounts you donate to your favorite charities!
When other states have tried legislation similar to this, it resulted in cases where people lost their jobs because their beliefs were different than their employers.
We are better off as a state when more people engage in political discussion, not less. Transparency is important for our government. Private citizens deserve privacy [Americans for Prosperity, “Don’t Allow Your Free Speech to Be Silenced,” retrieved 2017.02.21].
Note that the Koch Brothers are responding to the original text of the bill, not the amended form currently pending in House Judiciary that exempts 501(c)3 non-profits. And HB 1200 silences the speech of no one reading their propaganda, and it only reveals the identity of rich donors who give more $5,000 in one year to a group other than a 501(c)3 that engages in political speech. The Kochs just don’t want us to know when they and their rich friends are spending money to influence our politics.
If it bugs the Koch Brothers, it’s probably good policy. The Kochs and other rich donors targeted by HB 1200 are insulated by their wealth and power from “retribution” far more than we regular citizens are insulated from the predations of rich special interest groups in our political process.
House Judiciary takes up HB 1200 again tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10:00 a.m.