• Tag Archives Spencer Gosch
  • Republicans Signal More Campaign Finance Bills in 2018

    The Aberdeen American News interviews local legislators—

    AAN headline, 2017.04.05.
    AAN headline, 2017.04.05.

    —oops! Wrong headline…

    Today’s front-pager has area Republicans signaling they want to revisit campaign finance, an issue on which they ran counter to the wishes expressed by voters last November.

    Senate Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) looks forward to forwarding campaign finance limits:

    “Where we didn’t accomplish what I hoped was on campaign finance limits going forward,” said Sen. Greenfield, R-Clark. “We certainly have our charge going forward to work on during the summer and make recommendations” [Elisa Sand, “South Dakota Lawmakers Expect Campaign Finance Back in ’18,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.04.05].

    The forward-looking Senator Greenfield does not say what sort of limits he would forward.

    Rookie Representative Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen) repeats what he told the Dakota Free Press last week about his desire to require candidates to file pre-primary reports even if they don’t have primary opponents. Initiated Measure 22 would have imposed exactly that requirement; Rep. Dennert and his party repealed that requirement and everything else in IM22. Dennert’s Republican leadership neglected to apply Dennert’s desired universal pre-primary reporting requirement to themselves in Senate Bill 54, but they made sure to include such a new requirement for ballot question committees, because they hate ballot questions.

    Rookie Representative Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) promotes the Legislature’s war on ballot questions by promising to take another swing at violating the Constitution by limiting contributions from non-South Dakotans:

    The intent was not to squash the initiated measure process, he said. Instead, he wanted to preserve the process that was intended to give South Dakotans a way to present their own laws.

    Gosch said more than 84 percent of the money spent on 2016 ballot measure campaigns came from out-of-state sources.

    “We need to wrangle it back and bring it back to what our forefathers wanted,” he said [Sand, 2017.04.05].

    Representative Gosch, if you try passing another law like your failed HB 1074 restricting First Amendment activities based on the state from which the speakers hail, I guarantee that the courts will wrangle and bring the law back to what it was before your bill.

    Senate Bill 171 did establish a task force to spend this summer discussing campaign finance. We can hope that task force will deter folks like Gosch from fouling our statutes with unconstitutional policy. But we must spend our summer watching for other proposals (like the approval of corporate donations to candidates in this year’s Senate Bill 54) that Greenfield and other incumbents will use to protect their access to big money and box out challengers.



  • HB 1153 Hamstrings Ballot Measures with 34-County Signature Requirement

    The Legislature waged half-war on the popular democracy yesterday, repealing Initiated Measure 22 but withdrawing a bill that would have put the process of amending the constitution out of reach of more grassroots citizens.

    Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham)
    Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham)

    But yesterday Representative Spencer Gosch and nineteen fellow Republicans opened a new front in the GOP war on voters by filing House Bill 1153, which would beat back initiatives and referenda.

    Under current law, if South Dakotans want to put a new proposal on the ballot (initiative) or suspend and put to a public vote a bad law by the Legislature (referendum), they must circulate petitions and gather signatures from 13,871 registered South Dakota voters, 5% of the electorate who turned out for the last gubernatorial election. You can get all of those signatures standing on Phillips Avenue in Sioux Falls. I could get all of those signatures going door-to-door in Aberdeen. Chuck Brennan could hire 400 people to go to 200 towns and get 100 signatures each in a week. It doesn’t matter which South Dakotans sign a petition or where you find them; meet the 13,871 threshold, and your issue is on the ballot.

    HB 1153 says that’s too easy. Representative Gosch and his Republican friends want petitioners to get 50% of their signatures from at least 33 different counties and the other 50% from at least one other county.

    No geographical requirement exists for bills proposed in the Legislature. Representative Gosch only rounded up sponsors from fourteen counties, far short of the 34-county threshold he expects of citizens exercising their legislative power. Shall we put HB 1153 on hold until Representative Gosch can find a few more sponsors (and not all from Minnehaha County)?

    The likely intent of such a geographical requirement and the obvious practical impact is to increase the cost of circulating petitions and thus reduce the number of measures that make the ballot. Republicans have said they don’t like the influence of big money in ballot measures, but making it harder to collect signatures means fewer regular folks will successfully petition for ballot measures, and the remaining measures will increasingly come from the big-money groups who can afford to pay for circulators to drive to Selby, Highmore, Gann Valley, and Burke.

    HB 1153 isn’t as punitive as it could be. The exact text reads as follows:

    Fifty percent of the signatures required under this section shall come from no fewer than thirty-three counties, with the remaining fifty percent to come from any or all remaining counties.

    If I want to collect 20,000 signatures (decent cushion over 13,871, for signer and circulator error), I need to get 10,000 from 33 different counties and another 10,000 from “any or all remaining counties.” In the fullest spirit of the law, I could get 304 signatures from each county. But by the letter of the law, I could get 32 signatures from small counties, 9,968 signatures from Pennington County, and 10,000 signatures from Minnehaha County.

    Under HB 1153, petitioners could still quite sensibly focus on the two biggest population centers in the state and then spend a week going on a drive to make sure they have a handful of signatures from different counties (I’ll take that roadtrip!) At that point, HB 1153 is more minor nuisance than major petition-killing hurdle or honest guarantee of geographic diversity.

    To add to the circulators’ paperwork, no single petition sheet may have signatures from different counties. In other words, if I’m collecting signatures at the state fair, every time someone from a different county comes up to sign, I have to whip out a separate sheet for that voter’s county. Beadle, Spink, Clark, Kingsbury, Miner, Sanborn… either I have to stand there juggling my clipboard, handouts, and a folder of 66 alphabetized sheets, or any time a person from a county different from the last signer walks up, I have to just whip out a clean petition sheet. Under the latter scenario, on a good day at the fair, I might get a hundred or more sheets with just one or two signatures each, just because Spencer Gosch wants to complicate the paperwork.

    Requiring separate sheets for each county’s voters could be a bigger hurdle to getting a measure on the ballot than the mostly evadable county requirement. The county requirement creates one more avenue for the Secretary of State to reject petitions that should not be rejected. The Secretary’s 5% random sample of signatures could easily miss the handful of signatures I get from a couple of small counties or oversample the signatures I get from Minnehaha and Pennington County. The Secretary could easily sample closely geographically balanced petition and come up with 49% of signatures from 33 small counties and 51% from two big counties. The Secretary could then reject my petition, and since her House Bill 1035 wants to take away petitioners’ right to challenge petitions in her office and I can’t afford to go to court, my initiative or referendum doesn’t make the ballot.

    At best, HB 1153 achieves no goal other than annoying petitioners and the Secretary of State with paperwork. At worst, it is another bill (the fourteenth this Session, by my count, and the second from Gosch, after his unworkable and unconstitutional campaign finance restriction) meant to deter voters from exercising their constitutional right to legislate by initiative and referendum. Either way, HB 1153 is not worth passing.



  • Gosch Proposes Unworkable, Unconstitutional Limit on Out-of-State Money for Ballot Question Committees

    Representative Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) has roused 18 Republican colleagues to co-sponsor a poorly worded, unworkable, and unconstitutional restriction on out-of-state campaign contributions to ballot question committees.

    House Bill 1074 would add this language to our campaign finance laws:

    No ballot question committee may accept from any person, organization, political committee, or political party that is not a resident of this state contributions that equal more than seventy-five percent of the total contributions the ballot question committee accepts from a person, organization, political committee, or political party that is a resident of this state [HB 1074, introduced 2017.01.23].

    Poorly worded: I know of no legal definition in South Dakota law that applies the concept of “residency” to political committees and organizations.

    Unworkable: Suppose it’s March 31 and I’m launching ballot question committee to refer all of Spencer Gosch’s hare-brained ideas (I count three so far in his list of sponsored bills) to a public vote. At 12:00 p.m., my committee receives via my online fundraising page its first contribution, a $1,000 from a friend in Minneapolis. At 12:01 p.m., I receive my second contribution, $2,000 from a friend in Sioux Falls.

    Would that sequence put my Minnesota donor and me in violation of HB 1074? Do I have to refund every out-of-state contribution (or some constantly changing fraction thereof) that my ballot question committee receives and ask those out-of-state donors to resubmit their contributions when my in-state tally has climbed to a certain amount? Would ballot question committees need to post a constant running tally of in-state contributions, multiply by 75%, and tell out-of-state allies they can only donate that much today, but maybe more tomorrow? Or does Representative Gosch only going to check the pre-general and year-end campaign finance reports to make sure the out-of-state/in-state dollar ratio is less than 3/4 on those two specific dates?

    Unconstitutional: HB 1074 will not withstand First Amendment scrutiny. South Dakota cannot impose a restriction on political speech (alas, yes, money is speech) that applies to residents of some states and not others. If my Sioux Falls friend can give my ballot question committee unlimited contributions (and that’s what current statute allows), so can my Minnesota friend.

    If Representative Gosch really wants to limit the ability of rich out-of-staters like Rod Aycox and Henry T. Nicholas to buy their way onto our ballot and clutter our airwaves with crappy initiated measures, he should drop his sloppy HB 1074 and sign on to Senate Bill 54, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs’s proposal to repeal portions of IM 22 and replace it with new campaign finance reforms. Secretary Krebs scratches Gosch’s itch with Section 35:

    If the contributor is a person or entity, no ballot question committee may accept any contribution that in the aggregate exceeds ten thousand dollars during any calendar year. Notwithstanding any other law, no person or entity may contribute more than ten thousand dollars to any ballot question committee. A ballot question committee shall return within ten days to a contributor any contribution that exceeds the contribution limits provided under chapter 12-27. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor [SB 54 Section 35, introduced 2017.01.11].

    Under HB 1074, a donor in Minnesota wouldn’t know if she can give $100,000, $224.33, or nothing to a South Dakota ballot question committee on any given day, or whether she could write another check tomorrow. Under SB 54, that generous donor would know she’s done at $10K, no matter what day she writes that check.

    SB 54 treats Minnesota donors the same as South Dakota donors, avoiding HB 1074’s Constitutional trouble.

    As a bonus, SB 54 also lays out who gets in trouble for exceeding the limit (the ballot question committee, not the donor) and makes clear the punishment. HB 1074 doesn’t define the perp or the penalty (laws need teeth, Spencer!).

    We can cap campaign contributions, but the First Amendment says we have to do so equally, without discriminating against Minnesotans. Let’s avoid a lawsuit, kill HB 1074, and turn the Legislature’s attention to SB 54.