South Dakota needs to fight political corruption through changes such as limiting campaign contributions to candidates, reducing financial influence by lobbyists and making state government more open, the Democratic candidate for governor said Wednesday.
Sen. Billie Sutton of Burke answered questions about his “Restoring Trust and Integrity Plan” in a teleconference with reporters. He faces the winner of the June 5 Republican primary election between U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley.
Sutton’s plan came one day after Noem and Jackley debated Tuesday night in Sioux Falls at a forum hosted by the Americans For Prosperity organization.
Among Noem’s points in the debate were the rise in crime and several scandals in state government. One was the improper use of money in a state account related to a visas program. Another was the disappearance of more than $1.3 million of federal funds routed through the state Department of Education to Mid-Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.
Jackley secured a no-prison felony conviction against Joop Bollen of Aberdeen in the EB-5 visa matter and has felony trials pending for three Mid-Central defendants.
State Education Secretary Melody Schopp resigned last year. Her decision to end the state contract with Mid-Central in 2015 came one day before the cooperative’s business manager, Scott Westerhuis, allegedly shot his wife, Nicole, and their four children to death. He allegedly then set their house on fire and shot himself to death.
Jackley’s campaign has featured support from county sheriffs throughout South Dakota.
The release of Sutton’s plan comes 16 months after Republicans in the Legislature repealed anti-corruption measures known as IM 22 that a majority of South Dakota voters approved in the 2016 general election.
Lawmakers subsequently replaced some of the provisions. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is in his eighth and final year as governor, also took a variety of steps to increase transparency.
Sutton, who grew up on a ranch and works at a bank as a financial consultant, said Wednesday he wants to go much farther. He said many South Dakotans have become “disillusioned with politics altogether.”
“I’ve found transparency and trust in government is not a partisan issue,” Sutton told reporters. “This is more of a focus of what we’ve heard from the public.”
South Dakota voters haven’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1974. Sutton said “the establishment” has led to state politics becoming “stale.” He said conditions in state government require more than a five-point plan.
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Republicans have super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Details of Sutton’s proposals are at suttonforsd.com/restoring-trust-and-integrity. Among them:
• Strictly define a gift and limit how much lobbyists can give to elected officials and state employees.
• Require public employees report suspicions of corruption or mismanagement.
• Create an ethics commission covering all branches of government and give it independent investigative and audit authority.
• Re-enact IM 22’s campaign finance limits and end unlimited contributions.
• Require candidates disclose donors’ employers to show potential conflicts of interest.
• Keep public records at least 10 years or longer.
• Require detailed disclosures from lobbyists on a more frequent basis, and regularly audit the reports and make them publicly available.
• Develop a process to track officials and lawmakers after they have left government.
• Require disclosure of multiple state contracts to the same entity that cumulatively exceed $50,000 but weren’t bid.