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Renville Accuses Sutton of Rejecting Campaign Check for Fear of Being Associated with Indians

I get the feeling Allison Renville wants to be the Democrats’ girl who kicks the hornets’ nest. After charging that racism explains the huge drop-off from the Sutton vote to down-ticket Native American candidates on our 2018 ballot, Renville told Brown County Democratic leaders and other listeners at Wednesday’s forum for state Democratic chair candidates that Billie Sutton’s campaign rejected a contribution from her PAC for fear of being seen as in the pocket of Indians.

Let’s see where that hornet stings us.

Allison Renville treasures a PAC called Dakotas for America. That PAC’s campaign finance filings with the South Dakota Secretary of State

  • Sharon Warner, Rapid City: $7,500
  • Tom Warner, Rapid City, $7,500

In 2017, Dakotas for America spent nearly every penny of the Warners’ money on ($14,999.10 by adding the categorized expenditures, $14,998.35 by the sum listed on page 6, $14,997.60 by the final expense total on p. 8) on salaries, travel, office supplies, event expenses, and other costs not tied to any specific candidate. Renville’s PAC reported no 2018 pre-primary activity and no pre-general activity as of October 17. Then on October 30, 2018, Dakotas for America reported (three days late) an $8,500 contribution from REDCO, which is the “official economic development arm” of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

At Wednesday’s forum, Renville claimed that her PAC sent Sutton’s gubernatorial campaign a $2,500 check… which I assume could only have happened sometime on or after October 25, just twelve days before the election. Renville claimed that Team Sutton sent the check back, saying that they didn’t want his opponent, Kristi Noem, to be able to point to that check and say that Sutton was in the pocket of the Indians.

That horse was out fo the barn more than a before the election—Billie Sutton at Fort Randall Casino Indian Day Celebration Wacipi, hosted by Yankton Sioux Tribe, Lake Andes, SD, 2017.06.24; photo from Sutton campaign via Native Sun News.
That horse was out fo the barn more than a before the election—Billie Sutton at Fort Randall Casino Indian Day Celebration Wacipi, hosted by Yankton Sioux Tribe, Lake Andes, SD, 2017.06.24; photo from Sutton campaign via Native Sun News.

Hmmm… if Billie Sutton was worried that Noem would paint him red, he probably wouldn’t have appeared in the Rosebud Fair Parade on August 25. He probably wouldn’t have used Lakota language on his campaign website. He probably wouldn’t have gone to the 2017 Fort Randall Wacipi less than a month after he announced his campaign, or the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi last July, or any of those other powwows where Sutton was warmly welcomed and where nary a statewide Republican candidate was to be seen.

It’s more likely that Team Sutton looked at the check (which was real), looked at the source, and, ever the cautious pragmatists, raised questions about whether it could legally accept a contribution that could be traced back to an Indian tribal entity, which the Rosebud Sioux Tribe certainly is and from which state law says candidates and political committees can’t accept contributions:

Acceptance of contributions from public entities prohibited–Misdemeanor. No candidate or political committee may accept any contribution from any state, state agency, political subdivision of the state, foreign government, Indian tribal entity as defined in the Federal Register Vol. 72, No. 55 as of March 22, 2007, federal agency, or the federal government. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A subsequent offense within a calendar year is a Class 1 misdemeanor [SDCL 12-27-21].

Now a contribution from a PAC to Team Sutton is just fine. We could spend a year or two in court arguing about whether a contribution that originated from a tribal entity, went through a PAC, and then landed in Sutton’s hands puts Sutton in any actual legal jeopardy.

But Sutton’s case wasn’t going to be tried in court. It was going to be tried at the polls, in less than two weeks, in a race with a tight margin that would not withstand some last-minute campaign finance scandal.

Ever cautious, pragamtic, and legally educated, Team Sutton decided not to take a chance on that money.

Interestingly, three other candidates did take that chance. Dakotas for America gave $1,000 of the REDCO money to Troy Heinert’s Senate campaign, $2,500 to Alexandra Frederick’s Secretary of State campaign, and $2,500 to Wayne Frederick’s Public Utilities Commission campaign. They burned up the rest on gas for volunteers and other expenses.

Team Sutton had more immediate and practical reasons to reject a potentially illegal contribution than the pre-emptive racist pandering that Renville imputes to the least bad Democratic statewide candidate of this decade.

And in this imputation, Renville brings to the public questions about whether three other Democrats took an illegal contribution… and whether Dakotas for America itself broke the law (read SDCL 12-27-21 again: it refers to political committees like Renville’s PAC along with candidates) by accepting that late October contribution.

I’m not running for party chair, in part because I couldn’t just up and say things the way I like to up and say things here on the blog. I’d need to check whether the things I’m saying in my often partisan blog are reflecting well on the organization that elected me to serve its interests.

Allison Renville is running for party chair. She up and says lots of interesting, discussion-worthy things. But at Wednesday’s forum, she made a public claim unnecessarily and somewhat illogically impugning the character and practices of one of the party’s experienced young leaders. This claim, made before a public audience, now invites questions about the legality of her own campaign finance activity and that of some other Democratic leaders.

Those questions may be valid. Those questions may lead to nothing. But those questions probably shouldn’t raised by someone running to lead the party itself.

Watch out for the hornets and for the person who kicks their nest.


  1. Wayne Gilbert 2019-03-22 14:00

    She is not qualified to be chair of the community park clean-up committee.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2019-03-22 14:14

    Shortly after Billie announced his candidacy, within days, my phone rang and there was a familiar voice on the other end that introduced himself as Billie Sutton.
    After some small chit chat Billie got right to the point, “Roger, can you kick in $100 toward my campaign”?
    Quick and to the point, I liked that and of course said I would give immediately.
    The readers of DFP and Billie Sutton know that I’m Indian and he certainly had no fear of asking me for money.
    I’m sick to death of people calling racism where none exist and closing their eyes and shutting their mouths where it does.

  3. Buckobear 2019-03-22 14:30

    Is this the usual start of the circular firing squad so common in Democratic Party circles??

    Will Rogers certainly had it right: “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
    We need to save our campaign ammo and accusations for the real enemy — the republicans.

  4. Natalie Stites Means 2019-03-22 18:59

    FFS how fragile are you? And painting red?? 🙄 Democrats in South Dakota, I’m not sure there’s such a thing. Like, this is Republican Party 1999 in California to me. Before it was killed off, just like the SDDP is almost dead here. Perhaps if they’d fight for the people more, we’d find them
    More relevant. Maybe apportionment should be a priority instead of a giveaway to Republicans. Most loyal Democrats in the country live here – Native Americans- and this is how the SDDP treats us. Gross. And no, affiliates of tribes or those incorporeal through a tribe instead of the state, they are not the same as an ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, the words that follow, simply, Rosebud. The fact that this blogger thinks he can attack a Renville for her race and call it something else doesn’t change a damn thing. Democrats, stop being fragile, embrace Indigenous women of color – you will be ended in South Dakota without our support. Quit the gaslighting, accept reality and then answer the question- what is your problem with racism and the dying Democratic Party in SD?

  5. Natalie Stites Means 2019-03-22 19:05

    To be clear, REDCO is not a tribe, it’s an acronym for the Rosebud Economic Development Corp. obviously the Democrats who accepted the funds comprehend English words and what those acronyms stand for. The Sutton campaign needed some
    help on that apparently.

  6. Bob Klein 2019-03-22 21:08

    Where does she expect to gather votes from enough of the delegates to even come close? Before one runs for this chairmanship, one should figure out how it all works and figure out where the votes may come from. If you drag everyone from Hughes County to the meeting, you still will only be able to gather votes equivalent to those cast for Sutton in the 2018 election. And that’s if you can get all 3 or 4 or 5 delegates to vote for you. You don’t start that contest by bad-mouthing about 2/3 of the voters.

  7. James 2019-03-22 21:21

    Interestingly both Heinert and Frederick KNEW they were breaking the law. Frederick spelled out how to launder the money during tribal council. Heinert was standing right there and accepted the money. Also, Interesting enough Alexandra only reported receiving $2429 and not the whole $2500 reported by Renville. Here’s a video showing both Heinert and Wayne explaining how to break the law and get away with it.

  8. 96Tears 2019-03-23 12:24

    Knocking the most successful Democrat to run for Governor since Lars Herseth with an allegation that lacks proof or any verification should immediately disqualify Renville. It’s called “party building,” not “party purifying.” Sutton never struck me as fearful of being associated with the tribes and Natives. Renville needs to sit this one out and work on getting more life experience.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-23 21:16

    Note for all, including Natalie: beginning your first comment to mean with the f-word signals pretty strongly that you might have a hard time with rational conversation. I recommend against such language if you want a civil response.

    Nonetheless, let me try.

    I’m not sure what part of my critique of Renville’s claims suggests “fragility.” Suggesting “fragility” indicates a perception that I took Renville’s statement as a personal attack on me. I perceived no such personal attack, so I’m not sure how any “fragility” could be an issue.

    I know what REDCO stands for. I know that the document I cited says it is the economic development arm of the tribe. That suggests it is part of the body that is tribal government. Tell us, Natalie: is REDCO part of that tribal entity, or does it, contrary to the text cited from the tribe, operate completely separately from the tribe? If separate, is that separation absolutely clear in law in a way that would prevent any political candidate or committee accepting money from it from facing legal repercussions (if South Dakota ever enforced its campaign finance rules)? Is it possible that lawyers could disagree about that clarity and that some lawyers might advise caution in accepting such funds without any hint of racism?

    Where in the action discussed—Dakotas for America offers contribution to Sutton campaign, Sutton campaign declines due to legal concerns—is there evidence that “this is how SDDP treats us [Native Americans]”?

    How does the rejection of this check signal racism from a candidate who spent more than a year on the trail attending tribal events and talking with tribal leaders, as indicated by the links above? More directly, how does one campaign check, rejected for unclear reasons, somehow disprove the preponderance of evidence showing Sutton doing exactly the kind of Native outreach that Team Noem could have used to attack Sutton as an Indian candidate the way Renville said Sutton was afraid of being attacked as motivation for declining her PAC check?

    Do all those Indians in the photos at the powwows with Sutton think Sutton was racist?

    Gaslighting is an overused and misused term. I’m not questioning anyone’s sanity. I’m not saying something and then saying, “I never said that; you’re imagining things.” I heard what Renville said, I analyzed it, and I found it seems like an exaggeration unsupported by evidence. The incident she described seems more logically explained by the concern I laid out about campaign finance law and the campaign blowback that could come from such a late-blooming scandal, which would have hinged on campaign finance law, not on Noemish race-baiting.

    Consider: would Noem have even considered making the sort of attack Renville says Sutton was concerned about: “Sutton’s in the pocket of Indians! Vote Noem!” Really? If Noem tried making a claim like that, it would have gotten out, it would have made her look racist, and it would have had more chance of boosting Sutton’s campaign contributions and vote turnout.

    Renville’s claim just doesn’t make sense.

    So for Pete’s sake, Natalie, why invest so much in it? Aren’t there enough other clear expressions of institutional racism in South Dakota without going for exaggerations that distract from the core discussion we need to have about inclusion?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-23 21:24

    Roger’s early donation was plenty to prove Sutton was “in the pocket of the Indians”… if that’s what any Republicans would ever have openly argued. Billie didn’t turn down Roger’s money. Roger thus offers an excellent point about how it’s hard to come to Renville’s conclusion.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-23 21:24

    Ah, James points to a video from “Native Integrity,” real racists who masquerade as Indians in their effort to disenfranchise Native voters.

    Nonetheless, the video makes clear that Wayne Frederick raised the concern raised by the GOP, which revolves around the law I’ve cited, and recommended funneling that money through Renville’s PAC. As I said above, I don’t know if the law reaches that far back, but I can understand the legal concerns that would arise. I eagerly await some legal analysis from anyone who’d care to litigate.

    But again, the argument about accepting or rejecting the money appears to have little to do with racism.

    Note: I also like how the tribal official counts the vote, walking around, numbering off the voters. Very clear.

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