I expressed a little angst a couple weeks ago over the statement from South Dakotans Decide Healthcare, the ballot question committee sponsoring Amendment D for Medicaid expansion, that they had not taken a position on Amendment C, the 60% vote threshold for taxing spending ballot measures. Amendment C is a direct attack on Amendment D, I argued, so backers of Amendment D ought to be working hard to get out the vote against Amendment C in the June 7 special/primary election.
I should have paid more attention to the second half of the statement Jonathan Ellis attributed to them: “…although some of the organization’s coalition members are opposing it.” Pre-primary campaign finance reports were due yesterday, and South Dakotans for Fair Elections reports that, since January 1, SDDH member organizations and supporters have poured over one million dollars into their campaign against Amendment C:
- Sanford Health: $250,000
- Avera Health: $250,000
- Monument Health: $150,000
- American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network: $150,000
- The Fairness Project: $250,000
Sioux Falls’s two big hospital networks, Sanford and Avera, each put a quarter million into the fight against Amendment C, equal to their contributions toward the Medicaid expansion petition drive last year. Monument actually kicked in 50% more to fight C this spring than the $100K they gave last year to push D.
Last year the American Cancer Society donated over $43K worth of staff time to the Amendment D petition drive. This year to fight Amendment C they’ve donated just under $10K in staff time in addition to the $150K check they wrote to spread the word that C’s minority rule is not cool. The Fairness Project, a D.C.-based ballot-question backer, donated about $84K of time and labor to promote Amendment D last year; this year so far they’ve coupled $118K worth of donated services with $250K in cash to fight Amendment C.
The surprise entrant into the fight against the initiative-killing 60% vote threshold is the National Education Association, which wrote South Dakotans for Fair Elections a check for $455,960. There are no education initiatives on the 2022 ballot, and NEA and its local affiliate SDEA haven’t circulated a ballot question petition for years, but NEA evidently recognizes that if a majority of South Dakotans might ever want to impose a tax or dedicate spending to a particular cause, that cause would be education.
All those six-figure contributions to South Dakotans for Fair Elections total over $1.5 million. SDFE report spending $882K as of May 18, three-quarters of that—$663K—on advertising. The next biggest expenditures were $93K for printing and $85K for polling. SDFE reports $624K on hand for the final two weeks of campaigning.
With the support of the hospitals and the NEA, Amendment C opponents have actually outraised and outspent C proponents Americans for Prosperity. South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes, the ballot question committee formed by Amendment C sponsors Representative Jon Hansen (R-25/Dell Rapids) and Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska), once again raised no cash donations. The committee just served as the paper shell through which Americans for Prosperity could donate ads and services. Americans for Prosperity has spent about $497K this year pushing minority plutocrat rule. That’s up from the $339K they spent last year on their early postcards and other ads.
Opportunity Solutions Project, a part of the right-wing conservative Foundation for Government Accountability (itself an ALEC-associated group that worked with Americans for Prosperity to resist Medicaid expansion in South Dakota in 2016), donated another $50K of advertising to back Amendment C. Just yesterday SDAHT reported Opportunity Solutions Project (an ironic name, since their “solution” here is to take opportunity away from South Dakotans to enact policy at the ballot box) kicked in another $50K to push C.
Business lobbyist group South Dakota Coalition for Responsible Taxation threw in $19,500 worth of research and polling. Originally incorporated in 1997 as the “No More Taxes Coalition,” SDCRT (CRT! They must be bad!) includes a bunch of big business lobbyists—Jeremiah Murphy, Tim Dougherty, Nathan Sanderson, Drew Duncan, Myron Rau, Katie Sieverding, Deb Mortenson, Robert C. Riter, and Matthew McCaulley (McCaulley! They are definitely bad!). Under its old, more honest name, this group supported the 1996 amendment to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to enact or raise taxes.
The exertions of Americans for Prosperity and its conservative adjutants to back Amendment C thus equal $616,564.75 this year and $955,988.14 total. In just the last four and a half months, South Dakotans for Fair Elections has expended $1,009,253.62 to fight C, and it reports $624,371.48 still in the bank. Thanks to Jon and Lee’s shell game of donated goods and services through their ballot question committee, Americans for Prosperity doesn’t have to tell us how much cash on hand it has left for this fight.
But my concerns that the big hospitals and other groups would fail to see the big picture and fight the threat Amendment C poses not just to Medicaid expansion but to the people’s general and vital right to initiate laws have proven exaggerated. The big money expended and yet to be expended by the hospitals, the NEA, and the Fairness Project demonstrate that they recognize that supporting majority rule against the attack by the Americans for (Billionaires’) Prosperity is in their interest and the interest of South Dakota voters.