Let’s connect some campaign finance dots and talk about the influence of out-of-state money in South Dakota politics.
Back in November, Shining Light PAC, the creation of conservative Rapid City boat-rocker Jordan Mason, attacked Republican Representative David Johnson with a last-minute postcard branding him a complete scumbucket. That attack failed to stop Johnson from winning reëlection.
Mason funded Shining Light with about $2,500 of his own cash. He also received $3,000 from the Convention of States South Dakota PAC. Don’t let the name fool you: the Convention of States South Dakota PAC is run by Mark Meckler of California.
In 2018, COS-“SD”-PAC received $14,700. None of it came from any District 33 constituents of Rep. Johnson:
- $200 from Shirlee J. Meyer of Sioux Falls, SD
- $2,000 from William Metz of North Sioux City, SD
- $2,500 from Mark Meckler of Chicago Park, California (an address 554 miles away from the San Diego address he listed as treasurer on his PAC filing)
- $10,000 from the Convention of States Action group in Houston, TX.
85% of COS-“SD”-PAC’s money came from out of state.
In addition to supporting Shining Light’s effort to oust Johnson, this out-of-state PAC gave $500 to Johnson’s independent District 33 opponent Nick Reid. Out of 26 candidates whom Meckler’s PAC supported, Reid was one of only two non-Republicans receiving money from these out-of-staters who want to call a convention to rewrite the Constitution. (The other non-Republican receiving Meckler cash: Billie Sutton, Democratic candidate for Governor.)
Representative Johnson has worked hard to fight the call for a new constitutional convention. His House Joint Resolution 1004 rescinding several past Legislative calls for such a dangerous constitutional rewrite passed the Senate unanimously. Our 2015 call for such foolishness remains, alas, on the books with the defeat of Johnson’s SJR 4.
In Meckler’s work with Mason to campaign against Rep. Johnson, we have an excellent example of the influence of out-of-state money in South Dakota politics that Initiated Measure 24, G. Mark Mickelson’s ban on out-of-state money in ballot question campaigns (coming into effect July 1!), doesn’t touch. Out-of-state PACs can pour all the money they want into campaigns for and against candidates. The Convention of Staters dumped money into 25 Legislative races and saw 23 of those candidates win seats in the Legislature, where the out-of-state interests now have 23 more receptive ears to their push to rewrite the Constitution. (One of Meckler’s biggest recipients was now-Senator Lynne DiSanto, who loves the idea of rewriting the Constitution and who notably accused Johnson of threatening her last year on the House floor, then backed off her accusation when evidence showed not much to act on.)
And as unpleasant as David Johnson and I likely find that out-of-state influence, this issue also demonstrates why we cannot constitutionally ban out-of-state money from our campaigns. While I oppose Meckler’s agenda, Meckler has a First Amendment right to promote his agenda in every state of the Union. On the particular issue of calling a Constitutional Convention, he needs to promote his agenda in states other than his own: a convention won’t happen without the cooperation of multiple states.
We may not like the influence of Californians in our politics. We can point out all the legislators taking his California money (including two of my legislators, Senator Novstrup and rookie Representative Perry) and see if voters find such out-of-state influence bothersome, but we can’t prohibit Californians and other Americans from freely speaking, with their checkbooks, in our South Dakota campaigns.