A Massive Political Power Grab, and the Voters Trying to Stop It

January 4, 2018

By Tzipora Lederman
Associate Communications Director, Represent.Us

In 2017, the South Dakota anti-corruption movement went up against the entrenched political establishment and faced its wildly disrespectful efforts to cling to power and protect the corrupt status quo.

This battle between the people of South Dakota and the political establishment has had victories and losses on both sides.

In 2016, South Dakota voters passed the nation’s first statewide anti-corruption Act. The South Dakota legislature repealed it in 2017, and they have more plans to undermine and disrespect voters in 2018. But, thanks to inspiring South Dakotans from the across the political spectrum, the people finished 2017 with a huge victory: getting The South Dakota Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment certified for the 2018 ballot.

There’s a long road ahead. The South Dakota Legislature is cooking up some astonishing ways to thwart the anti-corruption law, like taking away the voters’ right to pass laws at the ballot and limiting the power of South Dakotans.

The Anti-Corruption Act – and the Shockingly Undemocratic Repeal

In November 2016, the people of South Dakota passed the nation’s first statewide Anti-Corruption Act. The Act was designed to stop political bribery, improve transparency, and increase enforcement of South Dakota’s ethics laws. The measure was popular among both Republicans and Democrats, and it passed with nearly 52% of the vote.

The campaign had significant and well-funded opposition; the Act empowered voters and sought to dismantle the corrupt status quo, so it was unpopular among wealthy political elites. When opponents failed to defeat it at the ballot, they turned to the South Dakota Legislature to undermine the will of the people, and repeal the nation’s first statewide anti-corruption act.

In early 2017 the South Dakota legislature declared a “state of emergency” so that they could repeal the Act without sending their decision back to the voters.

South Dakotans across the state were joined by thousands of people around the country to protest the repeal.

In spite of protests and calls from the public, politicians repealed the Anti-Corruption Act in front of a packed room of voters.

The Governor signed the repeal on February 2nd, 2017. This was a major slap in the face of South Dakota voters. It severely undermined the democratic process - and the shocking move made national headlines. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and many other outlets covered the repeal, with scathing headlines like "State of emergency is a brazen political coup against anti-corruption law" and "South Dakota lawmakers are showing that populism is a lie."

The South Dakota Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment

South Dakotans are fighting back. Represent South Dakota is an inspiring group of conservative, progressive and independent South Dakotans coming together to fight corruption. They are on the frontlines of the fight for our democracy. They started organizing throughout the state right after the repeal and held more than two dozen public forums on the topic. They are leading the charge to get the South Dakota Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment on the ballot in 2018.

The South Dakota Voter Protection and Anti-Corruption Amendment reforms a corrupt political system in which big donors and lobbyists hold all the power, and puts the people of South Dakota back in charge. It bans foreign money in elections, fights corruption, and holds politicians accountable. It also protects voter-approved laws from legislative meddling.

The South Dakota Legislature is not about to allow the Amendment to pass without putting up a fight...and they have a dangerous and powerful tool to stamp it out: the upcoming legislative session.

The 2018 legislative session starts January 9th, and politicians have put forward several enraging anti-voter proposals.

They’re considering the following:

  • Taking away the voters’ power to decide which ballot measures become law
  • Making it much harder for ballot measures to pass by requiring more than a majority (55%) vote to pass
  • Meddling with ballot language to mislead and confuse voters
  • Eliminating South Dakotans’ power to propose amendments to the state constitution
  • Putting the legislature's own proposals on the June 2018 primary ballot to preempt measures appearing on the November 2018 ballot

All of these ideas have one purpose: to prevent South Dakota voters from having a voice in their government. This goes beyond stopping passage of the anti-corruption amendment. The South Dakota Legislature is poised to completely corrupt and undermine democracy in their state.

South Dakota is the Tip of the Iceberg

The people of South Dakota aren't alone. Entrenched politicians undermining voters to protect the corrupt status quo are everywhere. These shocking schemes to steal our rights are underway in legislatures across the country:

  • In Ohio, the people are collecting signatures for a redistricting initiative in November – so politicians started planning a competing measure that could keep the power to draw districts in their own hands.
  • In Maine, the legislature meddled with every single ballot measure passed by the voters in 2016.
  • In Michigan, politicians didn't like two ballot initiatives submitted by the public – so they waited for the signatures to be delivered, then passed a law that preemptively killed them by changing signature-gathering rules.

When we win in South Dakota and elsewhere we'll take down the corrupt status quo, and create an America that represents the people, not the just the rich and powerful.

How You Can Help

There are lots of great ways to get involved to help pass the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment:

  • Share this story. We need to put a spotlight on the South Dakota legislature so politicians see that voters are watching, and so other state legislatures are not tempted by the same anti-voter, power-hungry tactics.
  • Donate to the campaign. The campaign is facing an uphill battle against powerful, well-monied special interests. Any amount you can give will help fund voter outreach and volunteer efforts to pass the Amendment.
  • Volunteer. If you're in South Dakota, join the Represent South Dakota chapter. If you're not in South Dakota, join your local Represent.Us chapter to pass anti-corruption reform in your area.