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Sutton-Noem

Sutton-Noem

Individual attendees to Kristi Noem’s fundraiser featuring President Donald Trump will be allowed to write checks as large as $23,000, even though state law caps individual contributions to statewide candidates at $4,000.

The checks will be written to a joint fundraising committee that is allowed to collect one bigger check from each donor and split the money among other participating committees.

The joint committee, called the Noem-Rhoden Victory Committee, was registered with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, the same day that invitations to Noem’s fundraiser surfaced on the internet. Noem, who is currently a U.S. representative, is the Republican nominee for governor of South Dakota in the Nov. 6 general election.

The new joint committee is comprised of four other committees, three of which are pre-existing and one that is new. The pre-existing committees are Noem’s own campaign committee, Kristi for Governor; Noem’s federal political action committee, KRISTI PAC; and the South Dakota Republican Party. The new committee, Rhoden for Lieutenant Governor, is that of Noem’s running mate Larry Rhoden and was formed Wednesday.

The $23,000 limit on individual contributions to the Noem-Rhoden Victory Committee is reached by adding up the legal limits on individual contributions to the four participating committees. Those limits are $4,000 on individual contributions to each of the Noem and Rhoden candidate committees, $5,000 to the KRISTI PAC, and $10,000 to the state Republican Party. Although $23,000 is the combined limit for individual contributions to the Noem-Rhoden Victory Committee, couples could give $23,000 apiece for a total of $46,000.

Invitations to the joint committee’s Sept. 7 fundraiser in Sioux Falls list minimum contributions of $5,000 per couple for a photo with Trump and admittance to Trump's remarks, and $1,000 per couple or $500 per person for admittance to the remarks only.

Noem’s major-party opponent in the Nov. 6 general election is Democratic nominee Billie Sutton, who is currently a state senator. His campaign sent a Thursday news release criticizing Noem’s joint fundraising committee.

In the release, Sutton campaign manager Suzanne Jones Pranger accused Noem of violating a campaign pledge. The pledge, which is on Noem’s website, says in part that Noem will not “take funds from Political Action Committees that were established with the intent to circumvent individual contribution limits.”

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“The minute Congresswoman Noem realized her political career is in danger — in true Washington, D.C., fashion — she calls in help from Washington and breaks the campaign promise she made to South Dakota by using a loophole to fund her campaign with big-money contributions most South Dakotans can’t afford,” Jones Pranger said. “We can’t trust the Congresswoman to clean up what’s wrong in Pierre when she has already proven we can’t trust her to keep her word.”

Noem’s campaign spokeswoman, Brittany Comins, said Noem is not violating her campaign pledge.

“It’s just not true,” Comins said. “The four committees that are involved were all set up to respect contribution limits, and none of them are avoiding contribution limits. They each have their own purpose, and they’ll spend their own funds.”

Comins said money received by the Rhoden committee, the KRISTI PAC and the state Republican Party under the umbrella of the Noem-Rhoden Victory Committee will not flow back to the Kristi for Governor committee.

Under the law, that would apparently be allowable. Several campaign finance experts interviewed by the Rapid City Journal said there are no limits on contributions from a candidate committee such as Rhoden’s to another candidate committee such as Noem’s, there are no limits on contributions from a federal political action committee such as KRISTI PAC to a state-level candidate committee such as Noem’s, and there are no limits on contributions from a state party to a candidate committee such as Noem’s.

Joint fundraising is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more common since the 2014 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling invalidated a $123,200 overall cap on individual contributions to joint fundraising committees.

The watchdog group OpenSecrets.org has said, “While JFCs are not new, the pre-McCutcheon limits had the practical effect of keeping them relatively small, since a donor couldn’t give to many committees before hitting the cap. Big donors are even more sought after now, and politicians who can draw those donors in on the behalf of their JFC partners have increased clout.”

Noem, Sutton and Libertarian governor candidate Kurt Evans are each running to succeed Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, who is term-limited.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."