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New Campaign Finance Bills Mostly Useful

The Initiative and Referendum Task Force wasn’t the only interim group empaneled by the Legislature to make it look like they were doing something to address the concerns of citizens cheesed by the Republican repeal of Initiated Measure 22. The Government Accountability Task Force was supposed to come up with some good ideas pertaining to campaign finance. Chairman and rookie Senator Jordan Youngberg and his Republicans don’t really want to cut off their big money, but the GATF managed to throw four bills into the hopper: one real reform of South Dakota’s lax campaign finance laws, one necessary fix of a Legislative boo-boo, one useful clarification, and one edge-frittering measure.

Senate Bill 8, one tiny section salvaged from a much more sweeping measure proposed by rookie Senate Craig Kennedy (D-19/Yankton), would specify that “all committees established, financed, maintained, or controlled by the same corporation, labor organization, person, or group of persons” share a single contribution limit. Under current statute, G. Mark Mickelson could write a personal $4,000 check to Marty Jackley’s gubernatorial campaign, then write $4,000 checks to Team Jackley from each of the corporations that he controls (and Mickelson has several). SB 8 says nuts to that: Mickelson gets to give that max $4,000 to Jackley once in 2018, and then he’s done, no matter how many other corporate checkbooks he can pull out of his deep pockets. If Speaker Mickelson is really serious about getting big money out of South Dakota politics, he will Vote YES on SB 8.

House Bill 1003 inserts important six words—”an entity after July 1, 2017″—that the Legislature forgot to write into its new campaign finance law last year. As I explained in October

Apparently when the Legislature approved allowing “entities”—the new legal term introduced by the Legislature this year to cover businesses, labor unions, non-profits, and other organizations that aren’t natural persons or political committees—to contribute directly to candidates (something FEC rules don’t allow businesses to do for federal candidates), they forgot to require candidates to itemize contributions from those entities. As it stands right now (in SDCL 12-27-24), businesses and unions could pour all the money they want into Kristi Noem’s, Marty Jackley’s, and Billie Sutton’s campaigns, and Kristi, Marty, and Billie could just write on their 2017 year-end reports, “$2,000,000 from entities” and not tell use who those entities are. Even if the Legislature passes Draft #206 as quickly as it repealed IM22, Kristi, Marty and Billie will still be able to submit their 2017 year-end reports by January 26 and not itemize their corporate overlords donors [CAH, 2017.10.15].

HB 1003 has an emergency clause calling for immediate enactment. HB 1003 will thus require a two-thirds vote from each chamber. Vote YES on HB 1003… and fast!

House Bill 1002 might matter. It clarifies that ballot question committees include groups opposing the placement of ballot questions on the ballot. We seem to have always understood that, but I guess this language makes clear that groups that mobilize to block initiative petition drives need to file their finances with the state just like the petitioners do. I don’t think we’ve had a situation arise in past petition drives requiring such a measure, but with the payday-lending creeps hiring blockers to harass interest-rate-cap petitioners in 2016 along with their own devious decoy-amendment petitioners, it doesn’t hurt to make clear than everyone participating in the petition process should report their donations and expenditures. Vote YES on HB 1002.

Senate Bill 7 will make your head hurt. You read along, and it looks like SB 7 is striking all sorts of language, but then it rewords and replaces that language elsewhere in statute. Check my reading, if you can bear it, but as far as I can see, SB 7 changes wording but not practical effect. The language does make campaign finance limits somewhat clearer to new readers… so fine, double-check the language, make sure no one left out a clause or a comma, and vote yes on SB 7 (but I’ll be darned if you’re getting all caps out of me on that one).