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SB 122: Brave Anti-Billionaire Stand, or Sneaky Way to Defund Elections?

Governor Kristi Noem made a big deal Wednesday about signing Senate Bill 122, which prohibits the use of private dollars to fund public elections, claiming that she is stopping Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg from pouring “Zuck Bucks” into our local elections:

In 2020, we saw Mark Zuckerberg pour “Zuck Bucks” into local election operations across the country. Elections should be funded by the government, and we will not risk creating avenues for big-tech billionaires to unfairly influence our free and open elections [Gov. Kristi Noem, press release, 2022.03.16].

This from Kristi Noem, who pimped out our National Guard to a Tennessee billionaire, who has campaigns with connections to billionaires dancing in the dark money to influence South Dakota politics, who herself has spent more time hobnobbing with wealthy elites to fill her campaign coffers? Is she practicing new laugh lines for her next out-of-state fundraiser?

I really don’t want any Zuckerberg money, either, but his grants didn’t buy any votes or sway anything outcomes. In Pennington County, the grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life covered the basic office costs associated with holding an election:

A non profit called the Center for Tech and Civic Life supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg handed out grants all over the country. South Dakota saw about 380 thousand distributed to 35 counties.

Pennington County Auditor Cindy Mohler says she looked at applying for the grant as a way to save taxpayers some money.

“The Center for Tech and Civic Life reached out, asked us to apply there was another person in the community told me about it as well, he reached out to one of the commissioners, they called me and said have you applied for this? I was like, well yep ok, so we got on it, applied for it and received the grant,” said Mohler.

Tom – And again what was the grant money used for?

“For us, it was used for covering the extra cost that we incurred in 2020, you know the absentee ballots were up so we had additional costs in ballots postage, envelopes, time all of those sorts of things, I purchased some shelving to help of organizing all the tubs of absentee ballots, that sort of thing,” said Mohler [Tom Hanson, “Auditor Reacts to New South Dakota Election Law,” KELO-TV, 2022.03.17].

Hanson says “one lawmaker” told him that “allowing private funding for elections could be a slippery slope and counties could become too dependent on it.” I can roll with the thesis that we shouldn’t rely on the charity or anyone else in the private sector to provide basic public services. We should make sure we are fully funding the cost of conducting free and fair elections with our tax dollars. But if the Pennington County auditor and other election offices are having trouble covering the costs of ballots, postage, and staff to make sure every South Dakotan can vote, Senate Bill 122 by itself is a bad idea. Unless we see the state committing itself to boosting funding for auditors and the Secretary of State, Senate Bill 122 is just South Dakota’s sneaky way of participating in the nationwide Republican effort to weaken our elections.


  1. Donald Pay 2022-03-18 12:03

    Yeah, elections shouldn’t have to depend on billionaires to fund them. Still, when you have dead beat Legislators who cash their paycheck yet, who fail to fund democracy, it’s nice that billionaires are around to see that democracy works, especially during a pandemic that kept many away from the polls. Dane County in Wisconsin received some funding, as did about half of the counties in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Legislature did squat to make sure people could vote during the pandemic. They knew about the problems with people not being able to vote during the spring primary, and still they sat on their hands. We had the Republican Leader of our Assembly (House of Representatives) who donned a haz mat suit to assure us that it was safe to vote. That sent the wrong message. Madison was able to field election workers by increasing pay and covid-proofing the precincts thanks to that private money. Milwaukee had to close scores of voting precincts for lack of election day workers, but still the Legislature failed to act. Drop boxes were erected. It was only through that money that Wisconsinites could vote safely in subsequent elections in 2020, and came out with a good turnout in the general election. THAT was the problem for Republicans, not the private money.

  2. Nick Nemec 2022-03-18 13:01

    And yet South Dakota is more than willing to accept funds from rich guys for stuff like building governor’s mansions, deep underground science labs and renting out the SD National Guard. No fear of undue influence in that stuff.

  3. Arlo Blundt 2022-03-18 15:39

    Well…as a deeply Republican state at all elected levels, South Dakota government loves cash on the barrelhead. Fines, fees, license fees for liquor, pot, and gambling, sales tax on food, gifts from the wealthy, just so its ready cash, South Dakota government has their hand out. When everybody is a Republican, they figure there is no corruption, its just on going support to prop up the status quo and continue Republican dominance….how can that be corruption???

  4. O 2022-03-18 20:53

    Make it so that neither elections nor campaigns can be privately funded, and we will be on a far better path for democracy.

  5. RST Tribal Member 2022-03-19 14:11

    So nomie girl has halted the free money from big corporations to help along elections like buying stamps and envelopes. Hey big corporates send some those big free dollars to Tribal Governments if the guys and gals in the Dumb Doom in Pierre don’t have a need for them. I am sure the funds will be used to right the many wrongs experienced by Native people with states and federal governments since them dang settlers washed up on shore looking for food, warmth and safety.

    Goodness if history went back in time and we knew what was in store we would have burned those ships off shore. Wishful thoughts.

    The billionaires brothers must have signaled to the inept inbred Republican in the 1 house gated community, with a sauna, along with the other inept inbred doofuses republicans to stop those dollars as it is getting more expensive to buy their minds and votes.

    Then the nick and dime brought uninformed republican voter steps in the booth thinking anyone not a R will take away guns, bullets, chew, give jobs to recent immigrants, or make them smoke weed causing them to mark R. Elections along the fault line.

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