The Legislature has finally stopped House Bill 1216, Rep. Spencer Gosch’s recycled attempt to restrict out-of-state contributions to South Dakota ballot question committees. Senate State Affairs killed it yesterday on a 5–4 vote, because, as Rep. David Lust and I have explained, capping contributions from Minnesotans at $100,000 while leaving contributions from South Dakotans unlimited violates the Constitution:
“The Supreme Court has not gone in this direction because they’ve clearly laid down the marker that, unless there is that corruption—that quid pro quo corruption element—that it’s an unconstitutional restriction of speech to prohibit out of state money,” Lust says.
So the question that’s unanswered is state sovereignty versus free speech in the form of money.
Lust says he disagrees with it on a free speech principle. He says the presumption for limiting out of state money is that South Dakotans can’t sift through speech.
“That somehow we would be duped by a message coming from somewhere else. So that’s really the heart of the matter, that we as a legislature feel we have to protect South Dakotans from themselves,” Lust says. “That is something that is just anathema to my views on South Dakota citizens and my confidence in South Dakota citizens in being able to sift through speech—be it out of state or in state—and make a prudent determination” [Lee Strubinger, “House Bill Goes After Unanswered Question in Money as Free Speech,” SDPB Radio, 2018.02.28].
While legislators struggle to come up with ways to limit the influence of big money in South Dakota ballot questions, the Senate took another step to make it easier for big money to dominate debate over one newly contested ballot measure. The Senate voted 22–13 yesterday to amend House Joint Resolution 1004 and finally give Speaker G. Mark Mickelson a little bit of his original wish to give one of his ballot measures special treatment. HJR 1004 would now put Mickelson’s snowflake-surrender to the out-of-state Marsy’s Law lobby on the primary ballot, separate from the four measures already approved for the November ballot.
One can make a case that the out-of-state crime victims bill of rights is costing counties money and that the sooner we fix it, the more money we save. But by calling that election for June instead of November, the Senate would give grassroots proponents and opponents only a month to organize and launch campaigns that could advertise and canvass during the entire 45-day voting period. That short timeframe gives wealthy groups (e.g., Mickelson’s new out-of-state pal Henry T. Nicholas, the California behind this vanity amendment) a big advantage in that campaign.
So don’t believe our Republican legislators when they say they want to get big money out of South Dakota politics. They just want what they want, and HJR 1004 shows that they’ll do their rich out-of-state friends favors at the expense of South Dakota grassroots organizers.