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Noem, Sutton Use Tricky Sorting to Fog Their Donor Lists

Reviewing campaign finance reports leads me to a Sunday openness jeer at Kristi Noem and Billie Sutton for deliberately obscuring their donors.

South Dakota candidates are required to list the names and addresses of every donor who gives over $100 to their campaigns. Noem, Sutton, and Marty Jackley all do that with supplemental spreadsheets.

Jackley’s supplemental donor list to his 2017 year-end report is a paragon of clarity.

Jackley gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.29, p. 1.
Jackley gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.29, p. 1.

He alphabetizes by donor last name, and his scanned PDF is still searchable: I can hit Ctrl+F and type in “Adelstein” or “Dakota Dunes” and zoom right to the text of interest.

Kristi Noem is not as nice:

Noem gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.26, p. 1.
Noem gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.26, p. 1.

Noem sorted her spreadsheet by street address, the least useful column. Noem’s own team can’t make walk lists or mailing lists by that sort. Sorting by house number jumbles ZIP codes, states, cities, and names. The only reason to sort by street address—and not even by street name but by the leading house number, making sequential 11212 196th Street in St. Onge, 1147 Orchard Circle in St. Paul, and 1150 Indian Hills Road in Brookings—is to make it much harder to search the list for all donors from Minnesota, or from Brookings, or with the last name Randazzo or Meierhenry or Jewett.

Plus, instead of sending a document in searchable format, Noem submits a scanned PDF that preserves no searchable text, ensuring that the only way to analyze her campaign finance report is by slow eyeballing.

Democrats are supposed to be better about openness. But on this point, Billie Sutton isn’t.

Sutton gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to original 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.22, p. 10.
Sutton gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to original 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.01.22, p. 10.
Sutton gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to amended 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.03.05, p. 1.
Sutton gubernatorial campaign, excerpt from supplement to amended 2017 year-end campaign finance report, 2018.03.05, p. 1.

Sutton’s first supplemental, submitted on January 22, 2018, was at least searchable. I Ctrl+F’d “Seiler” and zoomed right to Wanda Seiler’s $2,000 donation to support my campaign finance analysis in my preceding post. But Sutton’s March 5 supplement to his amended report—re-itemized as a courtesy, not a legal requirement, to suit Secretary Krebs’s sensible 180 on her interpretation of ActBlue contributions—is pure visual scan, not text-searchable.

But both of Sutton’s itemized donor lists are obfuscatorily sorted. The January 22 supplement shows some hint of sorting by donation amount, but the order resets every few records… so, what, we sorted by week, then by amount ascending? The March 5 amended supplement simply adopts Noem’s specious trick of sorting by journalistically useless street address.

Nothing in statute says campaign finance reports have to be neatly sorted. So if Noem and Sutton want to make it harder for journalists and their opponents to research and identify their donors, they are free to do so. But Marty Jackley’s donor-alphabetized, computer-searchable report shows how fearless candidates make their campaign finances transparent for the public.


  1. Michael L. Wyland 2018-04-22 10:58

    If you have a full copy of Adobe Acrobat, you can perform OCR (optical character recognition) on almost any PDF file. I have done this countless times to facilitate research and writing.

    I know – this requires a product purchase. However, research and writing is more than reading. I wish the candidates made it easy, but they are following the rules as written. Fortunately, we have the option to spend a little money and speed up the otherwise manual process of resorting and aggregating the data.

  2. Kathy Tyler 2018-04-22 11:26

    Think you are getting a little nit-picky here. If you look at Sutton’s and Jackley’s reports, Sutton’s is MUCH more thorough as to donations and fund raising monies. I imagine that Jackley’s report should have had those types of donations also.

  3. Doreen Creed 2018-04-22 12:16

    I always find it amusing to see some politically connected individuals butter both sides of their bread by donating to all candidates. It’s evident that the out-of-state and large Sioux Falls donors can make a huge difference in campaign funding.

  4. grudznick 2018-04-22 17:46

    Let me tell you all, Jack, that neither Ms. Noem nor Mr. Sutton are all about transparency. Ms. Noem will obfuscate all, and Mr. Sutton for all his braying about letting loose his emails failed. He failed. Basically he lied to the voters, or he couldn’t deliver, and now this. I, for one, blame Joe Lowe.

  5. leslie 2018-04-22 18:59

    Noem has a staff. Sutton doesn’t, comparably. and no grudz, he did not lie, “basically”, big word tho, for u-obuifusicate

    This is what republicans do, not democrats:
    “Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt met in his office last year with a veteran Washington lobbyist tied to the bargain-priced condo where Pruitt was living. Both Pruitt and lobbyist Steven Hart had previously denied Hart had conducted any recent business with EPA.Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt met in his office last year with a veteran Washington lobbyist tied to the bargain-priced condo where Pruitt was living.
    Both Pruitt and lobbyist Steven Hart had previously denied Hart had conducted any recent business with EPA.”

  6. leslie 2018-04-22 19:09

    cont.- 2014 fundraiser for Pruitt’s state re-election effort where more than three dozen OGE executives cut checks, even though he was running without a Democratic opponent.
    Records show that once Pruitt arrived at EPA last year, he met with a lobbyist from Hart’s firm Williams & Jensen and two executives from OGE Energy, which was then seeking to scuttle tighter pollution standards for coal-fired power plants. The company paid Williams & Jensen $400,000 in lobbying fees last year.
    Pruitt’s calendar also shows another meeting with OGE last month, though the agency provided no specifics about who attended.
    Hart’s spokesman declined to answer

  7. Jason 2018-04-22 20:53

    From a quick glance it looks like the Billy Sutton family is the largest donor at 11K.

    Just an observation.

  8. grudznick 2018-04-22 20:57

    That just means that Mr. Sutton’s family loves him more than Ms. Noem’s family loves her. Proportionately, I mean. It’s tough to measure love.

  9. Jason 2018-04-22 20:59


    Your post means you post on feelings instead of facts. Thank you for proving it.

    Love Jason.

  10. grudznick 2018-04-22 21:05

    Mr. Jason.

    You troll on your level and buy me a breakfast, wouldja sonny?

  11. Jason 2018-04-22 21:16

    I try to post mostly facts and stay out of the personal insults unlike most democrats on this site.

    Do I need to prove that to you Grudz?

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 21:35

    Michael, note that the candidates aren’t simply not taking steps to make it easier. They are taking deliberate steps to make it harder. Their records do not originate in scanned, unsearchable form. They appear to start with electronic spreadsheets, which they are surely not entering in address order. They have to hit “Sort” to do that, and that particular Sort is not one they make in the normal course of using their records, since that Sort is useless. They then have to hit Print and scan the document, or maybe hit “Export as PDF.” Those steps are above and beyond the minimum necessary to submit the legally required data, which can be done by simply hitting Save and sending a copy of that file to the SOS.

    Noem’s and Sutton’s supplemental reports represent an effort to make it harder for citizens to analyze their donor list.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 21:43

    Pruitt? Not an issue here. Grudz’s style? Not an issue. Jason’s habits? Not an issue. Get on topic.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 21:44

    Kathy, what details does Sutton provide that Jackley does not?

  15. Darin Larson 2018-04-22 21:44

    Come on, Cory. Not providing you with the most readily searchable database of donors is now “deliberately obscuring” their donors? You can’t read now unless the information comes in a form that your computer can digest for you?

    All the names and amounts are there for you to thumb through and as Mr. Wyland points out you can use Adobe Acrobat or probably any number of other programs to scan the text into readily searchable formats.

    When I read the headline I was curious how Noem and Sutton obscured their lists. Now I see it is just a blogger looking to make life easier for himself and to put out a misleading storyline. Sad.

  16. Jason 2018-04-22 21:50

    I’m still wondering why donations matter to you Cory?

    The law and ideology matter. That is why Trump won. Trump didn’t win because of money.

    Democrats pour as much or more into politics.

    The Democrats lost because of their policies.

    That’s a fact.

  17. Jason 2018-04-22 21:51


    I will summarise it for you. The Sutton family is Billies largest donor.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 21:51

    Yes, deliberately obscured. Those lists don’t start in that least useful order. They had to choose to sort them into that least useful order. The practical effect is that readers cannot access useful information from Noem’s or Sutton’s list nearly as easily as they can from Jackley’s superior, less obfuscatory report.

    It’s a small trick, but it’s a deliberate trick. It’s the same as if you asked for a copy of my campaign finance report and I shredded the document before handing you the strips. “All the names and amounts are there for you to thumb through,” and you can use some easily obtainable equipment (tape, glue) to put it into an easily readable format.

    Let me reiterate my point: Jackley’s report is easier to read, because Noem and Sutton took a step to make their reports harder to read.

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 21:54

    Largest donor at 11K? That’s 1.3% of the $830K raised in 2017. Point of the observation?

  20. Darin Larson 2018-04-22 22:04


    Of course their lists were in a more useful order for their campaign. How does that impact whether the list of information on donors and amounts was obscured? All the names and amounts are clearly laid out for you and everyone else to see. The fact the information was not provided in your ideal format is neither here nor there as to the question of obscuring information.

    You are using a technical definition of “obscured” in the sense that the information is all there, but it is in a format that is not as readily useful for your own personal purposes. You are attributing nefarious motive to the change in order of the names. Well, the sorting of campaign information is proprietary and they needn’t suit your personal whims. Moreover, you apparently do not want to go to the work to put it in a format that would serve your purposes better.

    It is readily apparent that you are too close to this issue and can’t see the forest for the trees.

  21. Jason 2018-04-22 22:06

    No point Cory other than Billy had the largest donation. from his family.

  22. Darin Larson 2018-04-22 22:10

    Cory, if you can’t see the difference between cutting up the names of donors into strips that you would take a lifetime to piece back together and having those names and donor amounts in front of you, but not in alphabetical order and not already in a database, I’m probably wasting my time responding to you. One case involves compliance with the law and readily ascertainable people and donor amounts and your absurd analogy involves not complying with the law and does not involve readily ascertainable people and donor amounts.

  23. Jason 2018-04-22 22:14

    When will you guys and gals understand that the money doesn’t matter?

    Your ideas are not inline with the plurality of SD.

  24. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 22:15

    Oh, I’ll do the work if I have to, Darin. But the point here is that Noem and Sutton took a step to require more work for such analysis, while Jackley left his report in the most useful form for any citizen interested in looking up his donors.

    No law required that Noem or Sutton re-sort their spreadsheet by street address.

    I could set my shredder to cut the paper along row lines, so that every record is intact, but all of the records are in no useful order. Or I could set my printer to print one record on each page, then set the papers next to an open window and let the wind sort them. Same obfuscatory step. Happy sorting!

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-22 22:23

    Money does matter. If the sources of campaign cash didn’t matter, South Dakota law would not require these reports.

    And if we’re going to have these reports, they should be as clear and accessible as possible. Noem and Sutton have made their reports less clear and accessible.

  26. Darin Larson 2018-04-22 22:29

    Cory, you are coming around to what you should have said at the beginning of this story: Jackley’s report was in the most useful format for looking up donors. That is fine. He went above and beyond what the law requires.

    To state that Noem and Sutton obscured their lists is false in the truest sense of the word, “obscure.” The information was not hard to read or comprehend. The information was just not in the format that you would prefer. That is hardly sufficient to base an allegation of “obscuring” donor information.

    There is an important difference between making information easy to sort and search–which is not required by law–and obscuring information–which would be against the law in the case of reporting campaign donors.

  27. Jason 2018-04-22 22:32


    Can you admit that SD doesn’t have the values the SD Democrat party has?

    That is why the money doesn’t matter.

  28. Thought police 2018-04-22 22:46


    If the money doesnt matter in SD, why all the hemming and hawing about “out of state money” from the SDGOP on these ballot issues, let the money be raised and the voters decide, right?

    Also, Trump won because he is a world class con artist, in that unique instance, to certain “con-able voters” if you will, money did not matter. Your argument style on this blog seems to indicate you may not know what the logical fallacy hasty generalization is or means (unless you are fully aware of the fallacies and are attempting to use each in an argument, in which case, bravo so far!), but your basic argument here would be a great example of that.

  29. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 22:52

    If money doesn’t matter in South Dakota elections, why do South Dakota republicans have millions and millions of dollars compared to Democrats?

  30. Jason 2018-04-22 22:56

    I have no problem letting Cory use your posts and logic for Cory’s logic and thinking.

  31. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 22:59

    Do you think I give a tinker’s damn what you think?

  32. Jason 2018-04-22 23:02


    You don’t have the brains to think

    I am sorry for that.

  33. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:04

    I am mortally wounded by Jason’s idiocy.

  34. Jason 2018-04-22 23:07


    Are you going to treat your constutenest like Roger is me?

  35. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:14

    Gotta ask, what is “constutenest”? As that how intelligent people spell “constituents”

  36. Jason 2018-04-22 23:19


    Constituents is what your party doesn’t have.

    I am so sorry it was spelled wrong Roger.

    I am still smarter than you though.

  37. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:25

    You are as pathetic as Trump, you both spell at a 4th grade level.

  38. Jason 2018-04-22 23:28


    What does it feel like to know you don’t have the intellect I do?

  39. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:37

    People like you are a dime a dozen, they convince themselves that they are smart regardless of the ignorance they display. I call them Trumptards.

  40. Jason 2018-04-22 23:39


    You don’t bring any intelligence to this blog

    I’m sorry for you.

  41. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:45


    I’ve been posting on Cory’s DFP blog for a number of years and can easily dispute the intelligence and positive contributions I have made here.

    Your contributions to DFP consistently show that you are a complete ass.

  42. Jason 2018-04-22 23:46

    Just let me know when you can refute any of my facts Roger.


  43. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:49

    Once again you haven’t presented any “facts” to repute.
    Asking questions is not presenting “facts”.

  44. Jason 2018-04-22 23:51


    That means you are ready to talk about the NASA data fraud.

    You ready for that?

  45. Roger Cornelius 2018-04-22 23:57


    No I’m not ready to talk NASA data fraud on a thread that is about campaign finances.
    You have presented no “facts’ relative to this thread.

  46. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-04-23 08:34

    Not that I’m joining Team Jackley, but I’m not sure that “much more detailed” is correct. Jackley reports in-kind contributions, same as Sutton; Jackley just doesn’t have as many of them to report. Sutton has a lot more in part because he did a silent auction. Maybe Jackley had no such event; maybe he did and just lumped contributions together; hard to say.

  47. leslie 2018-04-25 17:37

    Corey, let’s not “Comey” Billie as Kathy correctly complains; come on! catchey

    I still think an AG’s reelection contribution malfunctions (Pruitt’s $700,000 from energy he sue EPA 14 times) are relevant to this sorting thread.

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