Nearly five years since announcing his retirement, former U.S. senator Tim Johnson, D-S.D., continues to use his leftover campaign money to dish out some of the biggest and quietest political contributions in South Dakota.
In September, he contributed $50,000 to a politically active nonprofit — managed in part by his former chief of staff — which in turn spent the money on a petition drive to put redistricting reforms on next year’s general election ballot.
That contribution notwithstanding, Johnson still has more than $800,000 in campaign funds at his disposal as the calendar turns toward the 2018 elections, with few limits on the amounts his federal committees can dispense to state-level candidates, political parties and ballot-question committees.
Johnson has been slowly doling out the leftover money from his Senate campaign committee and his political action committee, South Dakota First, since he announced on March 26, 2013, that he would retire rather than seek re-election in 2014. Former governor Mike Rounds, a Republican, won the election for Johnson’s seat, and Johnson — who suffered stroke-like symptoms caused by brain bleeding from an arteriovenous malformation in 2006 — has since withdrawn into private life and stopped granting interview requests.
Johnson went into retirement with about $1.5 million in combined balances in his two federal fundraising committees, according to public reports filed with the Federal Election Commission around the time of his 2013 announcement.
Since then, further reports show he has disbursed about $688,000 from the committees, reducing their combined balance to about $816,000.
Johnson’s use of the money is restrained by federal law, including a prohibition against personal use. Permissible uses include donations to charity and contributions to national, state or local candidates and political parties.
Ballot-question committees in South Dakota have been the biggest beneficiaries of Johnson’s money so far. His reports to the FEC show at least $150,000 in direct or indirect contributions to South Dakota ballot-question committees since 2013, including the recent $50,000 contribution to TakeItBack.org-Advocacy, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.
Rick Weiland, who runs the nonprofit with former Johnson chief of staff Drey Samuelson, said the nonprofit gave the money to Citizens for Fair Elections, a South Dakota ballot-question committee. Citizens for Fair Elections has not yet reported the contribution because it is not required to file its next campaign finance report until Jan. 26.
Weiland said the committee employed paid petition circulators and volunteers to collect 34,000 signatures in support of a state constitutional amendment to strip legislators of their redistricting power and establish an independent redistricting commission.
Whether the measure will be included in the 2018 general election remains to be seen, because although the 34,000 submitted signatures exceeded the roughly 28,000 that were required, the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office is still reviewing the validity of the signatures.
Johnson’s other contributions to ballot-question committees have included $70,000 to Vote Yes On V — South Dakotans for Non-Partisan Elections (originally named South Dakotans for a Nonpartisan Democracy), which supported a 2016 ballot measure to establish nonpartisan elections that voters rejected 55 percent to 45 percent; and $30,000 to Raise South Dakota, which supported a 2014 ballot measure to raise the minimum wage that voters approved 55 percent to 45 percent.
Beyond ballot issues, Johnson’s committees have made big contributions to several other entities and causes, including the South Dakota Democratic Party, which has received $60,500 from Johnson’s committees since 2013.
The biggest charitable gifts from Johnson’s committee have gone to his alma mater, the University of South Dakota, which has received $37,000 from Johnson’s campaign committee since 2013.
Candidates have also received money from Johnson’s committees, including failed South Dakota congressional candidates Corinna Robinson, Weiland and Jay Williams, who each received $10,000. The campaign of Billie Sutton, a Democrat running for South Dakota governor in 2018, has so far received $5,000 from Johnson’s campaign funds.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest recipients of money from Johnson’s campaign committees since his retirement has been the South Dakota Department of Revenue, to which his committees have reported paying about $67,000 in taxes since 2013.
A spokesman for the state department declined to comment on Johnson’s situation, citing a policy against disclosing information about individual taxpayers. But the spokesman provided the Journal with a “Taxes on the Campaign Trail” publication, which explains that candidates and political organizations are required pay sales and use taxes on products and services they purchase.
Taxable services include work performed by campaign managers and consultants, and taxable products include campaign material such as bumper stickers and buttons. Because sales taxes are paid periodically, some of the taxes paid by Johnson’s committees may have been due on products and services purchased well before his retirement announcement.
If a piece of cloth could tell a story, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri’s No. 8 Rapid City Central jersey would have quite the tale.
It starts in 1991, after Vinatieri finished his storied career as the Cobblers' star kicker. After graduating from Central that year, his jersey was stuffed into a tattered, old box along with other old football uniforms that were bound for the trash.
Then, Steve Svendsen stepped in.
Svendsen coached the Cobblers from 1999 to 2007 and during his time in Rapid City, the Central student section would have "throwback nights" where students would wear old jerseys during important basketball or football games.
One year, ahead of a basketball game against crosstown rival Rapid City Stevens, Svendsen’s two daughters asked their father if they could also have an old jersey. What happened next was pure luck.
Greg McNabb, a coach on Svendsen’s staff and former teammate of Vinatieri’s at Central, pointed out that one of his daughters was wearing a jersey that once belonged to the Hall of Fame kicker.
“All those old jerseys were getting ready to be thrown away so we just kind of held onto it and kept it," Svendsen said. "I had him sign it a couple of years later. I held on to it for a few years and thought I could maybe sell it, but I thought, 'Well, that’s probably not the right thing to do.’
"So I decided one day I was going to give it back to him."
Svendsen now coaches at Caney Creek High School in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston. On Nov. 5, Vinatieri’s Colts were playing the Houston Texans, and Svendsen went to the game with the mission of giving the Rapid City native his old high school jersey.
“I thought that the jersey belonged to him and his family," Svendsen said. "I had an opportunity to see him at the Texans game when they played here last time, and I thought, ‘He needs to have that thing.’ I was going to hold onto it until he got into the Hall of Fame, but I thought, ‘You know what, give it to him now before anything else goes on.
“When I first gave it to him, he was laughing right away and he goes, ‘Are you sure you want to give that back to me?’ He’s gracious enough to take time for people when he’s getting ready for a football game. I thought that was my only opportunity.”
The day became more special, as Vinatieri was only one point away from moving into second place on the NFL’s all-time points list. He would score eight points that day, passing Gary Anderson with his 2,435th point.
Vinatieri currently sits at 2,457 points, only 87 away from tying Hall of Famer and longtime New Orleans Saints kicker Morten Andersen for the No. 1 spot.
Svendsen said he didn’t know it was going to be such a historic day.
“I knew he was getting close, but I didn’t realize he was only a point away until they announced it during the game. I thought, 'That’s great timing,’” he said. “One thing that Adam does not take for granted is where he came from. He’s a reflection of Rapid City and the community there, and I think he does a great job representing the state of South Dakota.
"I’ve seen him take time to talk to people, and not a lot of NFL guys do that. That just tells you that he does not forget where he came from. I think he’s very classy in that way.”
The gesture meant a lot to Vinatieri, who told the Journal in a phone interview that he was surprised and touched by the gift.
"Most of the time people want signatures for their stuff, but for him to give me a gift, a jersey of mine, was really cool for a number of reasons,” Vinatieri said. “It brought me back my roots, where I came from. I mean, we’re talking 25 or 30 years ago that I had a Central Cobbler jersey on, so that was a special moment, and it was really cool that he did that and thought of me like that.
"That was a special time for me.”
PIERRE | Earlier in my news career, I tallied success rates for legislators on bills they sponsored. I stopped when some started padding numbers.
But I went back the other morning to look at Craig Tieszen. His success was stunning — and on so many topics. Since 2015, he was a sponsor for 18 sets of state laws.
They included slowing other vehicles during school-bus stops, disqualifying commercial drivers for refusing chemical analysis, regulating school-bus drivers on handheld wireless communication devices, beverage sampling and drone regulations.
They also removed minor offenses from background checks after 10 years, eliminated life sentences for crimes before age 18 and revised drunken-driving penalties.
And they modernized domestic abuse language, changed drug-court penalties, updated prison methods for determining financial accountability and extended the period for a beginning driver’s permit.
Craig Tieszen seemed to be hitting his prime. That’s what made his death so shocking.
The Republican from Rapid City drowned Nov. 22 off the South Pacific island of Rarotonga, on the morning of what was to be the wedding day for daughter Leslie.
Tieszen, 68, and his brother-in-law, Brent Moline, 61, died in rough water where the ocean and lagoon met.
The tragedy stunned so many. Tieszen had gradually, steadily emerged as a senior lawmaker in Pierre. Many state government employees respected him.
He won election four straight times to the state Senate. Because of term limits, he ran for the state House of Representatives last year. District 34 voters rewarded a fifth victory.
Yes, the same district where Rep. Dan Dryden died from cancer last year weeks before elections.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard turned to a former legislator, David Lust, to serve for Dryden.
Lust, a past House Republican leader, accepted but said he wouldn’t run in 2018.
Now the governor must deal with another vacancy.
According to notes in the historical records kept by the Legislative Research Council, seventy-three representatives and senators have died while a member of the Legislature since South Dakota earned statehood in 1889.
Fourteen came during the difficult 1930s. No other decade saw nine. Only three passed since the 2000s began: Tieszen, Dryden and Sen. Dick Hagen, D-Pine Ridge, in 2002.
Craig Tieszen grew up at Canistota. In 1975 he started at the Rapid City Police Department. He rose to police chief in 2000. He retired in 2007. In 2008, he ran for the Senate and won.
He enjoyed life as a legislator. He asked direct questions that could be hard for some to answer. He proposed raising legislator salaries in 2015 and lost in the Senate.
He drove his yellow Mustang at precisely four miles per hour above the speed limit. He said he didn’t want to put another law enforcement officer in a difficult situation.
On Tuesday, 104 legislators gather for the governor’s budget speech. New chairs are at each desk. No one dare sit behind the nameplate for Rep. Craig Tieszen.
PIERRE | Twenty years ago, South Dakota residents spent 15 cents of every dollar for health care. By 2016, they were spending 20 cents.
That is a major shift in South Dakota’s economy. One result has been less and less tax revenue for state government and public schools.
Here’s why: Medical services aren’t subject to sales tax in South Dakota.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard plans to talk about that situation and a variety of others Tuesday, when he delivers the annual budget speech to the Legislature.
“It’s one of the points we’re going to make on weakened sales tax,” Liza Clark, the governor’s commissioner of budget and finance, said Thursday.
Most details won’t be revealed until the governor begins remarks shortly after noon.
State sales tax revenues weren’t meeting the Legislature’s initial expectations for the 2017 budget year. Lawmakers revised the estimate down during the 2017 session.
They also set new estimates for the 2018 budget year that began July 1. So far sales tax revenues have run lower than expected for several months.
From July through October, sales tax was supposed to produce $354 million. It generated $350 million instead, a shortfall of $4 million.
The contractor’s excise tax likewise is short so far.
The Legislature set the 2018 budget expecting $45 million from contractor tax for July through October. Instead $43 million has come in, a hole of $2 million.
The health-care shift came to light earlier in November during the public portion of a teleconference meeting by state government’s Board of Economic Development.
Members learned about it from Scott Stern. He is commissioner for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
State economist Jim Terwilliger said Thursday that U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics showed the shift.
For calendar 2016, the effect from health care on state government’s budget was the equivalent “theoretically” of more than $80 million in potential state sales tax that went uncollected, according to Terwilliger.
The federal agency showed spending on outpatient services, hospital care and nursing home services climbed to 20 percent of the state’s economy during 2016.
It was 15 percent in 1997.
Personal consumption expenditures in South Dakota totaled nearly $13.9 billion in 1997. Health care spending was nearly $2.1 billion.
For 2016, personal consumption in the state was more than $34.1 billion. Health care spending took up $7 billion of it.
Those numbers don’t include health care insurance, according to Clark. She and Terwilliger said insurance spending stayed proportionately steady over the 20 years.
The cumulative impact of uncollected state sales tax on health care services runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
More than 20 years ago, the Legislature approved taxing medical services at the suggestion of then-Gov. Bill Janklow. But lawmakers repealed the tax expansion during the same session.
Meanwhile, South Dakota government officials and many business people in the state now want the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether states can levy sales tax on businesses that don’t have a physical presence in those states. That matter is pending.
Four of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices must agree to hear it. State officials have estimated tens of millions of dollars in South Dakota sales tax are going uncollected each year because of the 1992 Quill decision.
Daugaard is expected to talk about that Tuesday as well.