As I told Greg Belfrage on KELO Radio Friday, the main problem with the so-called “replacement” bills is that IM22 was meant to check the power of the Legislature, but the “replacement” bills check the power of pretty much everyone but the Legislature. Legislators aren’t limiting their own campaign cash; in Senate Bill 54, they’re actually trying to expand their campaign resources by allowing businesses to donate directly to them. They are spending more time trying to limit the power of the people by trying to put new checks on our initiative and referendum rights.
Represent South Dakota, which fought hard against the repeal of IM22, sees a similar arrogance in the main Republican-pushed “replacement” bill, Senate Bill 54. Represent SD’s spokesman Doug Kronaizl says Republicans wouldn’t even take citizen input on the complicated new amendments slapped onto the bill in committee this week:
After repeated statements about respecting the people of South Dakota, the Senate State Affairs Committee barred public testimony on a campaign finance bill that would increase contribution limits and allow labor unions and corporations to donate directly to politicians. Yesterday, the committee held its final hearing on SB 54, a heavily-amended campaign finance overhaul brought forth by the Secretary of State. This comes on the heels of the total repeal of a voter-enacted anti-corruption law and many weeks of constituent engagement calling on legislators to honor lower campaign contribution limits.
Numerous legislators have pointed to SB 54 as evidence that they are committed to respecting the will of the people after completely repealing Initiated Measure 22, which was passed by voters in November and includes strong contribution limits. But where IM 22 lowered contributions limits and respected the pre-IM 22 ban on direct union and corporate contributions – a common prohibition in most other states and at the federal level – SB 54 would open the floodgates of contributions.
[Wednesday], the committee prohibited public testimony on SB 54 while adding multiple amendments to the bill, including Amendment 54oa, which doubles the amount of money a PAC can donate to a political party.
“They have been talking a big talk about ‘respecting’ the people, but these legislators once again showed their true, anti-voter colors yesterday,” said Doug Kronaizl, spokesperson for Represent South Dakota. “Not only have they repealed the entirety of a voter approved anti-corruption law, but now they are going so far as to silence the voters they purport to ‘respect.’”
Senator Bob Ewing, in an effort to justify the decision to bar public testimony, referenced earlier hearings as having provided adequate testimony. However, voters were only able to speak at the first hearing, which took place before a slew of amendments were made. During the second hearing on Wednesday, February 15, Senator Ewing stated: “I want to give everyone the opportunity to digest [the amendments] and we’ll act on it next Wednesday.” Despite that assurance, public testimony was ultimately barred during the final hearing on February 22, frustrating voters who had taken time out of their day to testify against the bill. “I thought the committee would at least give us time to read these amendments, but it looks like they had no intention to hear our voices the whole time,” said Roxanne Weber, a Pierre voter who hoped to testify against the bill.
“Calling SB 54 a ‘replacement’ of IM 22 is knowingly deceptive,” continued Kronaizl. “This bill does not represent the strong limits passed by the voters. Quite the contrary, it substantially weakens our campaign finance laws.” For example, IM 22 lowered the amount an individual can donate to a Secretary of State race to $1,000. SB 54, introduced by the Secretary of State’s Office, sets the limit at $4,000. But, even more egregious, SB 54 sneaks in a near-unprecedented change to pre-IM 22 law byallowing labor unions and corporations to give money directly to candidates, a practice currently banned in South Dakota and in most other states.
“If legislators were at all confused about why the voters are upset, they need not look any further than their behavior here,” continued Kronaizl. “Town halls have been packed, hundreds of emails have flooded their inboxes, and constituents have traveled miles to Pierre all so their elected officials can continue to ignore and disrespect them.”
SB 54 narrowly passed out of committee with a 5-4 vote. It moved to the full Senate on Thursday, where it passed 19-16 after legislators tabled an amendment from Senator Billie Sutton that would have reintroduced the lower limits set by IM 22 [Represent South Dakota, press release, 2017.02.23].
On the good side, another “replacement” bill, House Bill 1076, sponsored by Democratic Representative Karen Soli, may get us something like the ethics commission voters wanted to create with IM 22. In a helpful move away from Legislative oversight, House State Affairs changed the make-up of HB 1076’s Government Accountability Board from a six-member board with a majority appointed by legislators to a four-member board appointed by the Governor from among former or retired judges. HB 1076 passed the House 64–3 Thursday (who says Nay to an ethics commission? Republicans Spencer Gosch, Taffy Howard, and Chris Karr) and awaits Senate State Affairs attention.
If HB 1076 passes, we can only hope we’ll get more than gab from the GAB.