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Newland: Law Limiting Petition Circulator Pay Anti-Business, Unenforceable

In the fourth installment of his “Have Clipboard, Will Travel” series, guest columnist Bob Newland, who is making good money and paying good money to circulate a medical marijuana initiative petition in Meade County, notes that the various legal barriers South Dakota legislators have erected to quash direct democracy include SDCL 12-13-28, a measure that would pose an unfair restriction to patriotic free speech and free market activity… if it weren’t shot through with loopholes.

Bob Newland, guest columnist, petitioner, marijuana advocate.
Bob Newland, guest columnist, petitioner, marijuana advocate.

The South Dakota legislature has passed a slew of laws intended to prevent citizens from ever again attempting to set boundaries on legislators’ ethics, as the voters did in 2016. A few of those laws did actually improve the process, in the sense that the validation of signatures became more stringent, thus limiting forgeries, which were easy to effect back in the early part of this century.

Most, however, have only served to make achieving the ballot with any initiative or referendum immensely more difficult and expensive, thus encouraging out-of-state interests to pour money into South Dakota to change our state laws.

Please read the law printed below. I believe it needs no comment. It stands alone as a testament to the stupidity of a group of South Dakota legislators who, most likely, describe themselves as “patriotic,” “pro-business,” “believers in individual sovereignty and responsibility,” and “freedom-loving.”

As far as I know, no attempt has been made to-date to charge a violation of this law. That could be because it appears to be unenforceable. It’s like the legislators closed and locked a door, then left lockpicking tools lying around. I welcome arguments to the contrary.

South Dakota Codified Law 12-13-28. Employment and compensation of petition circulators.

No person may employ, reward, or compensate any person to circulate a petition for an initiated measure, referred law, or proposed amendment to the South Dakota Constitution based on the number of registered voters who signed the petition. Nothing in this section prohibits any person from employing a petition circulator based on one of the following practices:

  1. Paying an hourly wage or salary;
  2. Establishing either express or implied minimum signature requirements for the petition circulator;
  3. Terminating the petition circulator’s employment, if the petition circulator fails to meet certain productivity requirements; and
  4. Paying discretionary bonuses based on reliability, longevity, and productivity.

Any violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Bob Newland, 605-209-4354,
“His clipboard for hire meets the calling wind.”


  1. larry kurtz 2022-05-17

    I simply cannot ingest enough cannabis to dull the utter hopelessness, malevolence and barbarism of South Dakota politics.

  2. Bob Newland 2022-05-17

    What Larry said.

  3. Jake 2022-05-17

    In my layman’s opinion, there is no law in this article, or section.! The 2nd part seems blatantly to negate the
    first part, correct?

  4. Bob Newland 2022-05-17

    That’s how I see it, Jake.

  5. grudznick 2022-05-17

    Do you have the neatness clause in your contract, Bob? I’m sorry to say I may have scribbled a little illegibly on a few different petitions over the years.

  6. Bob Newland 2022-05-17

    You scribble illegibly on the walls of every crapper you worship in.

  7. grudznick 2022-05-17


  8. grudznick 2022-05-17

    Pretty weak blogging, Bob. If you do a part 5, I hope you can beef it up some. Really put something out there that you don’t need to endure the admonition at this weekends breakfasting.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-18

    Jake, yes, the statute seems to contradict itself. The first part says I can’t pay circulators based on the number of signatures they collect, which is generally interpreted as prohibiting paying circulators X dollars per signature. But the allowance for “minimum” signature quotas in #2 and “productivity” pay in #3 and #4 means basing pay on the number of signatures the circulator collected. Like Bob, I cannot think of any instance in which the state tried to enforce this statute.

    The point of this statute is to avoid motivating circulators to fill their sheets with fake signatures. But a productivity bonus—say, $400 each day that a circulator brings in 100 or more signatures—could motivate forgery as surely as paying $4 per signature.

  10. Donald Pay 2022-05-18

    The whole idea of paying for signatures on initiative petitions is foreign to my way of organizing. We did ply our completely voluntary petition circulators with an occasional coffee or soda. Sometimes we splurged, and added in a slice of pie or pizza. We focused our effort on community organizing over years to build the grassroots base necessary to collect signatures in many communities throughout the state. Of course, we had our core group who committed to gathering the bulk of the signatures at big events, like fairs. We did sometimes pay for a fair pass.

    We looked down on efforts that bought signatures. It’s just not the South Dakota way. Or wasn’t. But, the Legislature decided to Californicate the initiative process, putting in a lot of unnecessary up-front bureaucracy, which brought in the “professional” politicos, which largely pushed the grassroots approach out, and the paid circulators in. Then they pass laws like the one Bob cites. It’s so full of loopholes that it means absolutely nothing. Or is it a devious way to strike your petition: use one of those loopholes and see someone take you to court, and all your efforts are for naught.

  11. Bob Newland 2022-05-18

    A petition drive is about nothing but numbers; number of days available, number of signatures needed, number of dollars it will cost. From the moment someone hires a petition drive coordinator, the first paragraph of the purported “law” above has been violated. “Here’s $xx.xx to collect xxx valid signatures by July 1.”

  12. Donald Pay 2022-05-18

    Bob points out one way to look at petitioning an initiative onto the ballot. Clearly, you do have to be aware of the numbers no matter whether you “hire” a petition drive coordinator, or whether you have a grassoots petition drive headed up by a volunteer. But, for us, it wasn’t just about the numbers. It was about the issue, and about the citizens’ right to have their concerns addressed in a Constitutional process that gave them the power to address problems. We had done the work over a number of years to have a loose confederation of grassroots folks willing to petition. We didn’t see why you needed to pay people to do the work that volunteers could do. Because the US Supreme Court makes people think that “money is speech” they take the shortcut way, and pay for the work that citizens should do as a part of being a citizen. Citizenship is monetized. It becomes a matter of numbers. That’s not the way it should work.

  13. All Mammal 2022-05-18

    I’d bet all my red tootie-frooties the codified law is there as an apt pretense for invalidating petitions. It is another ‘single subject rule’. There for convenience. Not applicable at all times. Another example of a snobby sometimes rule would be when the gentlemen sent their documents by certified mail to the AG office to obstruct the shiesty amendment C, but were shafted for following the state’s guess law.

    Heads: I win. Tails: You lose.

  14. Bob Newland 2022-05-18

    Don Pay’s admirable devotion to ideology over profitability is, simply, sorely overrun in SoDak by the Pharisees who have taken the reins in Pierre. I am being employed for the moment by a carpet-bagging concern of considerable liquidity to leverage matters that should never had to be leveraged.

    On numerous occasions over the past 25 years, I’ve heard legislators complain, “Why do you elect us if you just turn around and try to subvert us with an initiative?”

    “Good question,” I replied.

  15. Donald Pay 2022-05-18

    Bob, I have to wonder if those legislators ever read the South Dakota Constitution or anything to do with the history of the initiative and referendum in South Dakota. There are a lot of dumb people in this world, and I found the dumbest happen to be South Dakota legislators. That’s why they have lobbyists to tell them what they are going to vote on and how they are going to vote. That’s why they have to have bill mills providing them with bill drafts. That’s why they have closed caucus, in order to hide from the public just how dumb they are. And that’s why we need the initiative and referendum to correct their stupidity. Of course, not all legislators have single digit IQs. There are some smart ones, but very few.

  16. Bob Newland 2022-05-20

    Don, I missed getting here for a coupla days. I have long held your belief that “There are a lot of dumb people in this world, and I found the dumbest happen to be South Dakota legislators.”

    I also concur with, “…that’s why we need the initiative and referendum to correct their stupidity..”

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