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Thin majority of voters gives a thumbs-up to new anti-corruption and campaign laws

Thin majority of voters gives a thumbs-up to new anti-corruption and campaign laws

  • Updated

PIERRE | The corruption scandals that have stained state government in the past decade evidently became too much for a majority of South Dakota voters in Tuesday’s general elections.

Initiated Measure 22 won passage by more than 11,300 votes statewide, even though it failed in 42 of 66 South Dakota counties. Voters in the Black Hills region and in Pine Ridge gave the measure strong support.

Its stated purpose on Page 1 is “to increase accountability to the people of South Dakota in electoral politics and to combat government corruption and its appearance.”

That includes spending up to $12 million of public funds every two years to pay for political campaigns by giving every registered voter two $50 democracy credits to contribute to candidates as they choose.

Whether the new publicly financed campaign system takes effect for the 2018 elections or the 2020 elections is a decision the Legislature will need to make by the end of March during its 2017 session.

The language in the initiated measure is conflicting about whether the system is intended to take effect for certain in 2018, and then only for legislative candidates, or it could be delayed altogether until the 2020 election, when it would apply to legislative and statewide candidates.

The system also sets caps on how much an individual candidate could receive in democracy credits.

Also in the law are limits on the total amounts that would be spent on democracy credits in an election cycle, such as $6 million for legislative candidates, $1.5 million for constitutional offices and public utilities commission candidates, and $4 million for all candidates for governor.

State government already is feeling budget pressure unrelated to the new South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act, as IM 22 is officially known.

Sales tax revenues haven’t met expectations since July, while state spending has increased under South Dakota’s new system for providing higher pay to schoolteachers.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard delivers his budget recommendations Dec. 6 to a joint assembly of the Legislature.

What comes next, in rapid order, are some of the largest political and ethical reforms for South Dakota in many decades:

• Creation of an ethics commission that has its own investigatory and punishment authority if the attorney general or secretary of state doesn’t take action on complaints sent to them by the commission.

• Much more detailed reporting by lobbyists on their spending and their activities, including for the first time information about decisions they’re attempting to influence in other parts of state government outside the Legislature.

• Lower limits on campaign contributions and creation of a public campaign-financing system, using state tax revenue, that would allot two $50 democracy credits per registered voter to donate to candidates each election cycle.

• Increasing the wait time to two years from the current one for state government officials to take private-sector jobs in areas they regulated.

• The initiated measure carries the force of state law. The Legislature could change it or erase it altogether in the 2017 session or after.

The ethics commission would have five members. No more than two could come from the same political party. Lobbyists, employees of state or local government and elected or appointed officials for state or local government couldn’t serve.

The first five members are to be appointed by Jan. 31, 2017. The governor would select from four sets of lists.

There would be one member apiece from the list from the Senate majority-party leader; one from the list from the Senate minority-party leader; and one from a list jointly agreed upon by the respective two Senate leaders.

There would be two members from a list jointly provided by the president of South Dakota State University and the president of the University of South Dakota.

They would serve six-year terms but the initial appointments would be staggered, so the three members chosen from the Senate lists would serve three years, while the two members from the university presidents’ lists would serve six years.

The ethics commission would be allowed to employ staff and contract for employees as it chose.

The commission’s general duties would be to administer the democracy credits for campaign funding; issue recommendations “to minimize corruption and its appearance and promote trust in government;” review campaign finance and lobbying reports; and hold investigation and enforcement authority.

There would be a telephone hotline and an internet site for accepting confidential reports of alleged wrongdoing.

The commission would issue an annual report to the governor and would be able to track ethics-related investigations on a monthly basis being conducted by the attorney general.

The two men behind Initiated Measure 22 tried on several occasions each to be elected to Congress but weren’t able to win elections.

One is Republican former legislator Don Frankenfeld of Rapid City. The other is Democratic former candidate Rick Weiland of Sioux Falls. Standing in for Weiland has been a Democratic former legislator, Darrell Solberg of Sioux Falls.

The initiative received 180,580 yes votes and 169,220 no votes statewide. Generally it lost in rural smaller-population counties and in some of the larger-population areas such as Watertown, Huron and Mitchell.

But it received approval in some politically interesting clusters of counties: homes to state universities; Indian reservation areas; the northeast; the corridor of Brookings to Sioux Falls to Yankton; and the Rapid City region including the Black Hills.

The measure won in Brookings, Brown, Buffalo, Clay, Custer, Day, Dewey, Fall River, Jerauld, Lake, Lawrence, Lyman, Marshall, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Oglala Lakota, Pennington, Roberts, Spink, Todd, Union, Yankton and Ziebach counties.

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