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Natalie Stites Means

Means

Mayor Steve Allender said he was surprised to read that his opponent in the upcoming city election wrote in a Facebook post that she "heard" he has $13 million to spend on his re-election campaign. 

I "giggled at first," but it's "super unprofessional to post a rumor" and the number is a "total fabrication," Allender said this week.

Natalie Stites Means announced last week that she is challenging Allender to be the next mayor of Rapid City. Shortly after that, she said on Facebook that he has a multi-million war chest for the June 4 election.

"Just in case you might not know it, I heard my opponent has $13M in a political action committee," Means wrote Sunday before making a pitch for campaign contributions.

By Thursday morning, the post garnered more than 270 reactions and was shared by more than 100 people on Facebook. Means later added a comment under her post that said the figure might not be correct.

"I heard (yes, on social media) the incumbent doesn’t have nearly this amount and it's just a rumor!" Means wrote Tuesday afternoon. 

Allender said he's received no PAC money and has no plans to create one. State records list no PAC that mentions Allender's name and no PACs have been formed at the local level, city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said. 

Means said her campaign has raised about $250 so far, while Allender said he suspects he has less than $2,000 in funds from individual donors and leftover money from his previous campaigns for mayor.

Allender said he raised about $86,000 for the 2015 mayoral election when he ran against Sam Kooiker, who was seeking re-election. He ran unopposed in 2017.

Means' Facebook post asks supporters to donate to her campaign via Dakotas for America, a PAC created in South Dakota in 2017, according to the Secretary of State's website. Dakotas for America recruits, trains and advocates for Native American candidates, according to its Facebook page

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Means said she heard that Allender has $13 million in PAC money from Lance Lehmann, who is running for a Ward 4 council seat. Lehmann said he mentioned the figure to make a point during a conversation about fundraising at a meeting with other Native American candidates on Sunday at the city library.

Lehmann said he hasn't endorsed Means or Allender but was just giving "friendly advice I'd give to anyone" about the need to raise money when challenging an incumbent.

"To emphasize the point, I told her of a ridiculous rumor I had heard while working from a patron, who told me that Mayor Allender had $13 million already. It was an obvious exaggeration, which I only told her to emphasize that everyone understood that Mayor Allender had substantial backing," he said.

After Means made her post, Lehmann said he again explained to her that what he said was an "unsubstantiated rumor," and he was just trying to say she needs to raise money for the mayor's race.

Means said she was "very shocked" to hear that Allender had $13 million for his campaign and that she did check the Secretary of State's website and found no PAC under Allender's name. She said, however, that she thought it was possible a PAC under a different name is giving him money, or he may have access to that much money through some other source.

Means said she doesn't regret her Facebook post and that she hasn't accused Allender of anything. "What I said is I heard something. I said I heard it."

She also suggested that Allender is the one making an issue about her Facebook post.

"It's really not that big a deal for me. I think this is probably about trying to discredit a young candidate excited on social media," Means said. His response "raises more questions than answers for me."

Means said the fallout from the Facebook post won't impact her campaign strategy, which will largely rely on volunteers.

"I'm an authentic person who has engaged in social media for years now. Certainly, I hope to get the facts about that rumor that I heard, but it's not going to change our campaign either way because we're not relying on big money," she said. "We're a grassroots campaign. We're not professionals, and we're certainly not politicians." 

Allender said he doesn't intend to respond to every comment made about him or his campaign, but he responded to this one because it was made early in the campaign and he wants Means to know "people don't like this kind of thing."

"Personal jabs, especially lies, have no legitimate place in a public campaign," Allender wrote on Facebook in response to Means' post and another by Allison Renville, head of Dakotas for America. These comments show "how rumors are started and spread. Voters are smarter than this: do not be fooled by wild allegations during campaign season — it can bring out the worst in people."

Allender and Means have until April 9 to file their campaign committee and a statement of financial interest, Shoemaker said in an email. A campaign committee can accept and spend money, which must be reported. The source of donations over $100 must also be reported. 

The statement of financial interest lists all sources of income that contribute 10 percent of or more than $2,000 to the candidate's family's income. Allender already turned in his statement, which says he receives income from the city for being mayor and the state retirement system after retiring as the Rapid City police chief.

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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