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At least $13.73 million was spent on South Dakota’s recent race for governor, which appears to have been the most expensive race for governor in the state’s history, according to a Journal analysis and historical data from a watchdog group.

The Journal’s analysis considered spending earmarked for the governor race since the earliest candidate fundraising committees formed in 2016, through the primary and general elections in 2018. Not only spending by candidates, but also spending by political parties and independent groups, was included.

To calculate the total spending in the race, the Journal viewed and pulled numbers from 32 campaign finance reports filed by about a dozen entities with the South Dakota Secretary of State's Office. The most recent reports were filed at the end of January.

A similar effort is underway by a watchdog group, the Institute on Money in Politics, based in Montana, which collects state-level campaign finance reports from across the nation and inputs the numbers into a database. The institute’s collection of campaign finance reports for South Dakota’s 2018 elections is so far only 44 percent complete; however, the institute does have data for past governor elections back to 2002.

That data, although not quite complete for some years, and reported as total fundraising rather than total spending, does provide a way to compare the costs of governor races through the years.

According to the institute’s data, the 2018 South Dakota governor race was the state’s most expensive governor race since 2002, when about $8 million was contributed (adjusted for inflation, that would be about $11 million today). The 2002 race included a highly competitive Republican primary, which Mike Rounds won on his way to winning the general election.

The institute also reports that about $5.7 million was raised during the South Dakota governor's race in 2010, $3.5 million was raised in 2014, and $3.2 million was raised in 2006.

Following are the biggest spenders in the 2018 race, according to the Journal’s analysis.

No. 1: Noem

The biggest spender was Kristi for Governor, the campaign committee of Kristi Noem, the Republican who won the general election with 51 percent of the votes. Her committee spent a total of $6.67 million from the time it formed in 2016 through the end of 2018.

No. 2: Sutton

The next biggest spender was Sutton for South Dakota, the campaign committee of Billie Sutton, a Democrat who finished second in the general election with 48 percent of the votes. His committee spent a total of $3.71 million from the time it formed in 2017 through the end of 2018. He ran only in the general election, because he did not have any Democratic challengers for the party’s nomination.

No. 3: Jackley

Third in spending was Marty Jackley for Governor, the committee of Jackley, who lost the June Republican primary race 56-44 percent to Noem. Marty Jackley for Governor spent $2.51 million.

Jackley also had a political action committee, Friends of Marty Jackley, that spent money during the campaign. The Journal did not include the PAC in its analysis, because much of the PAC’s money was given to Jackley’s campaign committee.

No. 4: Super PAC

The Tenth Amendment Action Project, of Washington, D.C., is a type of political action committee known as a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money if it does not coordinate with candidates. The Tenth Amendment Action Project spent $272,772.42 to influence the South Dakota governor race.

Of that amount, $183,715.17 was spent during the general election campaign to support Noem and oppose Sutton, and $89,057.25 was spent during the Republican primary, although the reports filed by the super PAC with the South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office do not make it clear which Republican primary candidate was supported or opposed by the spending.

No. 5: SD Republican Party

Reports filed by the South Dakota Republican Party list coordinated expenditures for Noem and against Sutton that, when added up, total $262,081.49.

Meanwhile, reports from the South Dakota Democratic Party showed no coordinated expenditures in the race for governor.

No. 6: Rhoden

Rhoden for Lt. Governor, the committee of Noem’s running mate, Larry Rhoden, spent $207,607.20.

No. 7: Lavallee

Lavallee for Lt. Governor, the committee of Sutton’s running mate, Michelle Lavalle, spent $75,712.


Several other groups and individuals independently spent money to influence the race:

  • Craig Lawrence, former chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, spent $8,400 on ads in the Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader supporting Noem over Sutton.
  • Stan Adelstein, a prominent businessman and Republican former legislator of Rapid City, spent a total of $5,820.51 on radio ads and an ad in the Journal, all supporting Billie Sutton.
  • Growth Energy, a pro-ethanol political action committee based in Washington, D.C., spent $5,412 on advertising in the Argus Leader, apparently to support Noem (the committee’s report to the South Dakota Secretary of State says the ad mentioned Noem, but it does not say whether the ad supported or opposed her).
  • Planned Parenthood Minnesota North Dakota South Dakota spent $250 on an unspecified communication opposing Noem.


Kurt Evans, the Libertarian candidate for governor who received 1 percent of the votes in the general election, raised a total of $80 during the race and spent it on travel, according to the reports of Kurt Evans for Governor.

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Enterprise Reporter

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