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Americans for Prosperity Launch Poorly Designed Hogwash Against Anti-Corruption Act

The Koch Brothers’ first media attacking Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, are remarkably lacking in design quality and fact.

The Americans for Prosperity’s freshly populated website,, offers this mailer for download: mailer, downloaded 2016.07.11. mailer, downloaded 2016.07.11.

The two main images are repetitive and unclear. The text tries to tell us that politicians are coming to take our money, yet the handsome whiskery gentleman on the address side does not clearly reinforce that message. Whose money is that in his hand? Where did that money come from? Is he putting that money in his pocket or taking it out to buy that notepad and that really big Mac screen on the counter in front of him? No one can tell: it’s just a static image with no clear direction.

The larger graphic on the back tries to make clearer some sort of transaction with some guy cufflinked up as Uncle Sam. But is Uncle Sam taking that wallet or handing it back? Is the headless suit model a voter? If so, is he losing his money to Uncle Sam or getting Democracy Credits back from Uncle Sam to spend as he sees fit? Or might blue-tied torso be a political candidate? If so, is he getting a handout from Uncle Sam, or is Uncle Sam actually taking away his wallet full of corrupting campaign cash from special interests like the Koch Brothers? And what is Uncle Sam doing here, anyway? The Anti-Corruption Act is a state measure, not some federal law, right?

Bonus critique: the postcard is gender-biased, depicting all men. Aren’t women affected by the Anti-Corruption Act?

Americans for Prosperity doesn’t write any more clearly than it designs. The card indicts itself, saying Initiated Measure 22 means “more politics as usual—more TV ads, more postcards, and more robocalls….” sniffs dismissively at campaign mailers… with a campaign mailer. Hilarious.

Similarly contradictory is the first line of their Web content:

Politically-connected special interest groups are up to no good [Americans for Prosperity,, downloaded 2016.07.11].

Here, for one brief, shining moment, the Koch Brothers actually tell the truth:’s backers are politically connected, they are special interest groups, and they are up to no good.

The rest of their text is hogwash. Let’s do the line-by-line:

Measure 22 will allow big spending politicians to take millions of our taxpayer dollars and send it to political campaigns:

The Anti-Corruption Act actually limits campaign spending. To participate in small-donor public financing, “big spending politicians” have to limit the size of donations they take ($250 cap for Legislative candidates; $500 cap for statewide candidates). No candidate gets “millions” from the Anti-Corruption Act; IM 22’s “Democracy Credits” are limited to $700K for gubernatorial candidates, $175K for candidates for attorney general, $75K for Secretary of State and Public Utilities Commissioner, $50K for treasurer, $25K for auditor, and $15K for legislators and Commissioner of School and Public Lands.

  • Forcing us to fund political TV ads and intrusive automated calls

The Anti-Corruption Act forces no one to fund political advertising. Citizens volunteer to participate in the Democracy Credits program. Citizens can give their two $50 Democracy Credits to the candidate or candidates of their choice, or they can leave that money on the shelf.

  • Funding even more wasteful government spending

What waste? Arguably, the Anti-Corruption Act means candidates spend less money overall, which means (following the Kochs’ thesis here that political ads are bad) less waste of our time with political ads and phone calls. The Anti-Corruption Act even prevents waste within campaigns: participating candidates can’t convert Democracy Credits to personal use the way they can currently convert campaign funds; they must spend the Democracy Credits on legitimate campaign expenses or give the money back.

  • Taking away tax dollars from funding our roads, bridges, and schools

The Anti-Corruption Act does not mandate any reduction in the budgets for roads, bridges, or schools.

  • Forces you to add your name to a government database

Now the Kochs are just making stuff up. You don’t have to add your name to a government database unless you are a lobbyist. The lobbyist database already exists; IM 22 simply makes it more transparent and informative. IM 22 does create a secure online system for assigning and possibly issuing Democracy Credits to voters, but that system would only work with data already available to the public in the voter registration list.

  • Opens you to harassment for making voluntary donations to charitable causes.

Here the Kochs pile lie upon lie to attack Section 16(2)(e) of the Anti-Corruption Act. This provision mandates that anyone who donates to an organization to fund political communications must give that organization full name, address, and employer so that organization can fulfill new campaign finance reporting guidelines. Nothing in Section(2)(e) deals with “charitable” donations, and nothing in IM 22 says those donors will be contacted, much less harassed, by the new state ethics commission; it only makes public how much those organizations spend to influence elections and public policy… which is the last thing the Kochs and other special interests want.

Measure 22 is another government money grab to fund political campaigns using your tax dollars.

IM 22 is the opposite of a “government money grab”: it hands money back to voters and says, “Here, you decide how you want to spend your tax dollars. If you want to use it to fund a candidate or two who represents your values and will do a good job in office, go for it. If you want to leave that money in the kitty for next election or for use in roads and schools, that’s your choice.” IM 22 recognizes that these are your tax dollars and gives you more say in how your tax dollars are spent.

Ben Lee of the South Dakota branch of Americans for Prosperity is getting who-knows-how-much money from the Koch Brothers to pump out this low-quality propaganda. I’m getting no special-interest dollars to tell you the truth. The Kochs and other special interests oppose the Anti-Corruption Act because they oppose you. They don’t want you taking away their secret, big-money influence over how your tax dollars are spent.

And if the Kochs are anti-Anti-Corruption… well, logic says two antis make a pro… and in South Dakota there are plenty of special interests who are pros at corruption.


  1. Nick Nemec 2016-07-11

    I disagree Cory. These ads contain powerful images that will reinforce the already low perceptions people have of politicians.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-11

    If that’s the case, Nick, if this card doesn’t negate its own message, then we must challenge that message by having more politicians of good conscience reclaim the term “politician”. The special interests want to degrade our brand so that people don’t listen to or vote for candidates. The less people believe in and participate in the system, the more influence the wealthy special interests have.

  3. Rorschach 2016-07-11

    What I want to know is who keeps that kind of a wallet in the breast pocket of their suit? And who keeps loose Benjamins in their breast pocket without a pocketbook or bank envelope?

  4. Dicta 2016-07-11

    Betcha dude has a monocle.

  5. Nick Nemec 2016-07-11

    I agree Cory. The special interests have a vested interest in driving down trust in government and driving up voter apathy. If no one is looking they have an easier time driving their agenda through our legislatures and Congress.

  6. Craig 2016-07-11

    I received this card in the mail late last week and will admit that I don’t really know a lot about IM22 yet. I scanned it over and realized they were so short on specifics that my initial thought was they were being deliberately misleading, and thus I assumed if I read up more on IM22 I’d probably end up supporting it.

    Needless to say this mailing didn’t do much for convincing me to agree with their position. Quite the opposite in fact.

    I hope people aren’t so easily swayed – and I know many voters don’t bother to pay attention until they are reading the descriptions for the measures found on the actual ballot. This is the world we live in.

  7. David Newquist 2016-07-11

    Nick has a point. What may seem unaesthetic and crude may still register with power on many minds.

    The science of graphics is an increasingly important part of language and communications studies as we advance into an age in which visual images are inseparable from verbal messages. Ironically, the conservative movement, which so vituperatively eschews anything Marxist, has adopted Marxist behaviorist psychological theory with devotion and applied it to their communication. That theory posits that organisms are conditioned and controlled by their environment. The way to form and control a human mind is to exercise control of its verbal and visual environment. While we westerners thought those “Running Dogs of Capitalism” posters that at one time papered over much of China were absurdly crude and laughable, they were powerful in the way they impacted the minds they were intended to affect.

    The science of graphics studies the effects of type faces and illustrations, lay out and object orientation. color, sound, all that can be put into a communication for the human mind. It studies advertising and propaganda in terms of what is effective in conditioning human sentience. It studies both the enlightening and benighting aspects of communication and their successes. As to the benighting, a colleague says the behaviorist conditioning is about creating dumb —– and keeping them that way. He said you can tamp bull—- into heavy bricks and build impenetrable walls with them. And so, in the ad you examine you have crude illustrations of someone pocketing “HARD EARNED MONEY” and the hand of government reaching in and taking it out. And the repeated big type message “DEFEAT.” For how many dumb —- will this tamp down the bull—-?

    This tactic works. Remember 12 years ago when the Thune campaign appealed to the instate, provincial resentment of Tom Daschle’s DC success and acquisition of power by claiming it was an abandonment and betrayal of South Dakota? The tamping down on that native peevishness was successful, along with the contention that he married a beauty queen and bought a house with a swimming pool. And remember Kristi Noem repeating her charge that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was a part of Nancy Pelosi’s coven, when, in fact, Stephanie opposed the Pelosi majority with her votes on healthcare, LGBT rights, the environment, and other issues. The tamping, not the facts wins elections.

    That is result of the conservative movement sharing the Marxist abhorrence of critical intelligence as it has worked to purge public education of the knowledge and skills that feed it. Language arts programs through the college level have eliminated the close reading and analysis of texts and replaced it with tested training in spelling and punctuation, which can be induced through conditioning. Notice how, just as Pavlov’s dog salivated at the tinkle of a bell, you can mention gun control and get back large choruses of “Guns don’t kill people.”

    And when it comes to art and music, how many students have witnessed images and songs that can counter the commercial violence of video games and gangsta rap?

    Do not underestimate the crude power of darkening down the human mind and tamping down those bricks that keep it that way.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-11

    Ror, for security reasons, I decline to reveal where I keep all my loose Benjamins. ;-)

  9. Cindy Mohler 2016-07-11

    If there is a fund set up for the possibility that I may want it to go to a candidate then those dollars won’t be available to put in the budget on roads etc. Your statement that it gives me the choice of where my tax dollars go is false. The State can’t budget money in both places so I do not get to decide WHERE it ends up getting spent. It either gets shelled out to a candidate or stays in the fund.

  10. Adam 2016-07-11

    Visceral substance lacking ads do work, but only with very limited demographics. I think ads like this give sensible people and groups the opportunity to continue the dialogue with voters, and correct the record. Failing to present a snazzy opposing rebuttal ad is what kills the dialogue and keeps voters from flushing out all of the facts. Truth distorting mailers like this truly do provide an opportunity. I think the truth about IM22 is easier to understand than the anti’s spin.

    If all politicians are bad in a voter’s mind, then it speaks to a void of perceived integrity. I think it’s more like a vacuum than a void since all people always want as much integrity as possible all around them all the time, and they really think they know what it is when they see it – they know it’s hard to come by – and so they figuratively pull every bit of it as close as possible.

    I truly think that IM22 would help restore a certain amount of integrity in Pierre. It’s message should probably revolve around that.

  11. Mark Winegar 2016-07-12

    This is hilarious! The Koch Bros. and their ‘Americans for Prosperity’ must be desperate to publish such lame propaganda against ethics in government. Let’s fight back by talking about IM #22 with friends and family and telling them to vote YES.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-12

    I’m thinking about what Ror said about that kind of wallet. We usually carry our wallets in our back pants pocket… so why didn’t AFP show some skeezy pol reaching for some average Joe’s backside? That would have roused the transgender bathroom panic that the Kochs capitalize on to keep us distracted from their own pickpocketing of the public coffers.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-12

    Cindy, unlike the Americans for Prosperity in their deceptive mailer and calls, I make no false statement. Let’s analyze:

    AFP claims that IM 22 forces us to fund political campaigns. That is false: no citizen is forced to contribute Democracy Credits to anyone.

    I said that IM 22 says, “Here, you decide how you want to spend your tax dollars. If you want to use it to fund a candidate or two who represents your values and will do a good job in office, go for it. If you want to leave that money in the kitty for next election or for use in roads and schools, that’s your choice.” My use of the or in that statement may be unclear and inartful, but it is not false. Under the current system, we have little if any direct choice over how our tax dollars are spent: the Legislature appropriates our money as it sees fit, and we can make direct funding choices only with difficulty, by initiative or referendum. IM 22 actually increases our direct choice: each of us can choose to spend our Democracy Credits on candidates we like or, as I said above, leaving that money on the shelf. Leaving that money on the shelf means the state doesn’t have to put in as much money to replenish that fund, which means the state has more money left to spend on roads and schools. We do not get to make that choice ourselves directly, but we make that option possible with our choice to use or not use our Democracy Credits. It’s not full participatory budgeting (and I’d support other measures to move us in that direction), but its greater choice than the status quo.

    I thus have said nothing false. The falsifiers in this debate are Americans for Prosperity, who totally misrepresent IM 22 to protect their lobbyists and their big-money influence over our political system.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-12

    AFP is knocking on doors, asking for folks by name, and handing them a flyer with this graphic:

    AFP anti-anti-corruption act flyer with Uncle Sam

    Interesting that they continue to use the Uncle Sam graphic in a negative way. Are we supposed to vilify Uncle Sam? And how does Uncle Sam stand for state government? That’s a pernicious confusion. If I run further into the weeds, I could say it’s an odd flip of a harmful misfocus: South Dakotans think the federal government is corrupt and untrustworthy, but they have yet to stage a voter revolution against the corruption in our own state government, which IM 22 seeks to remedy.

  15. Cindy 2016-07-14

    I work in government and I do understand the process. You are correct, your use of the word false was more unclear to those that don’t understand how it works.
    Now that we’ve covered that point I will say that if I choose to support a candidate I can write them a check or volunteer on their campaign and so can any other voter out there. I do not want tax payer dollars being set aside to support campaigns and therefore can’t support IM22.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-14

    And on that point we can have a fair debate, as long as we acknowledge that IM 22 empowers individual citizens, not the government, to use their tax dollars to fund the campaigns of candidates who agree to certain campaign finance restrictions.

    Curious, Cindy: given that most of us pay more than $100 in sales tax each year, would you accept the argument that two $50 Democracy Credits are really your own money, and that IM 22 simply allows you to direct the first $100 of your taxes toward the purpose of incentivizing candidates to obey campaign finance restrictions and thus perhaps reduce the amount of direct mail and robocalls that AFP pretends to find so annoying (even as it calls and mails and knocks on doors for its own political purposes)?

  17. Don Coyote 2016-07-15

    The IM22 math is unworkable. A yearly $9@registered voter funding only allows for about $10.4M per every 2 year election cycle. With a 40%-60% voter turnout dependent upon Presidential election vs non-Presidential elections, the fund will be depleted with only a 18%-30% of participating voters (depending on turnout) at $100 credits @ voter. This isn’t egalitarian. This is elitist.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-16

    It’s perfectly workable, Coyote, not to mention conservative. Instead of over-allocating money, the Democrats working on the Anti-Corruption Act are funding the program based on assumptions that not everyone will participate and assign their Democracy Credits, just as not everyone checks the $3 box on their 1040s for federal election funding. That’s not elitist in any way; that’s the fiscal conservatism that we Democrats are known for.

  19. Adam 2016-07-16

    IM22 also helps limit the power of mega-donors and outside groups from unduly influencing our state legislative elections… in my opinion.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-17

    And predictably, the mega-donors behind Americans for Prosperity are working hard to unduly influence this election to prevent us from limiting their influence.

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