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Williams Suggests All-Local Campaign Contributions

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jay Williams offers a variety of informative policy statements in his responses to yesterday’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. But he slips and proposes what is likely an unconstitutional restriction on campaign contributions from folks from elsewhere.

In response to a campaign finance question, Williams says he supports reforming campaign finance with “citizen vouchers,” like the Democracy Credits included in Initiated Measure 22, the Anti-Corruption Act. But Williams adds this statement: “Along with this I support limiting campaign contributions to persons who can actually vote for the candidate.

I can see a principle behind what Williams is saying: the people who have to live with the consequences of an election should have primary if not exclusive influence over the outcome of that election.

However, can’t we argue that people in neighboring states are affected by the results of elections in South Dakota? Doesn’t Grover Norquist have a better chance of drowning the government in a bathtub with Kristi Noem as South Dakota’s lone Congresswoman? Don’t women in California stand a better chance of enjoying equality in wages and health decisions if they help flip a South Dakota Senate seat from Republican to Democrat?

If we accept the principle of campaign dollars as free speech—a problematic and debatable concept that nonetheless underpins current campaign finance law—prohibiting a Minnesotan from contributing to a South Dakota candidate fails constitutional scrutiny. A Pipestone resident has as much First Amendment right to express her support in dollars for Jay Williams as she does for Senator Al Franken.

Likewise at the state legislative level, Rapid City residents have as much right to speak up for State Senate candidates in Aberdeen and Sioux Falls as for the candidates in their own districts. And for folks in districts where Legislative seats went uncontested or were decided in the primary, supporting candidates outside their Legislative districts is their only chance to influence the election of a Legislature that supports their priorities. (Full disclosure: like many Legislative candidates around the state, I am asking for and receiving substantial support from folks outside District 3.)

Banning contributions from folks who can’t vote for the candidate they are supporting would put a crimp in Williams’s own fundraising. Eight of Williams’s 43 individual itemized donations appear to come from people who cannot vote for him. Williams’s April FEC report shows $300 from an Iowa woman, $250 from a Virginia man, $250 from a Wisconsin man, and $2,600 from a Washington State woman. Williams’s pre-primary report shows $250 from a California woman, $500 from a Washington, D.C., man, and $1,000 from a Minnesota man. Williams’s July FEC report shows one more contribution of $50 from that California gal (Berkeley! Williams courts the hippie vote!). That $5,200 constitutes 26% of Williams’s reported itemized individual contributions.

Banning contributions from out-of-staters would knock an even bigger hole in the war chest of Williams’s opponent. Between January 1, 2015, and May 18, 2016, Senator John Thune received 4,480 individual itemized donations. 3,109 of those donations came from out of state. Thune’s out-of-state donors gave him $1.42 million, 77.2% of his $1.84 million in individual itemized contributions over that period.

I support IM 22 and other proposals to reduce the influence of big corporate money and enhance the power of individual voters. But banning contributions from individual stakeholders outside of a given electoral district won’t pass First Amendment muster.


  1. Craig 2016-07-19 10:09

    Perhaps when Williams stated “I support limiting campaign contributions to persons who can actually vote for the candidate” he was more centered upon the “persons” aspect of the sentence.

    Williams could very well be suggesting that we shouldn’t allow corporatations to finance campaigns because those corporations cannot vote. Contrary to what Mitt Romney said and what the SCOTUS seems to suggest, corporations are not people and have no voting rights. They are COMPRISED of people who should be able to give their own money to whatever campaign they choose, but the corporation itself should not IMO as that simply promotes a culture of corruption.

  2. Moses11 2016-07-19 15:43

    Will Williams come out and propose a mandatory funding health care bill for all veterans who have served.Will he challenge Thune on his poor voting record for veterans.

  3. Michael Wyland 2016-07-19 16:05

    I wonder what Tom Daschle’s reaction might be to the “no contributions from outside South Dakota” proposal? His national fundraising clout in the 1980s and 1990s not only financed his campaign and helped finance other Democratic Senate campaigns, it also provided essential funds to operate the SD Democratic Party.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-07-19 23:07

    Craig, I hope that’s what Williams meant. If so, the statement should be clarified to place real voters over non-voting corporations.

    If my interpretation holds, then indeed, as Michael points out, Williams’s position would undermine one basic tool for building the South Dakota Democratic Party tested by Daschle: seeking reinforcements from allies across the nation.

  5. leslie 2016-07-21 17:38

    all citizens in families with tax returns of less than $100,000 should have unrestricted free access to make unrestricted campaign contributions at public cost, while all those making more must qualify by use of IRS photo ID’s, at public cost, which take six months or more to process, or after any other obstruction the democratic party can come up with to assure that those bigger earners have sometimes unsolvable hurdles to achieve, making them give up the attempt in futility.

    their voter registrations should also be cancelled regularly at irregular intervals through out the 50 states assuring their inability to know if they are registered or not, on the day they vote.

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