SD Politicians Promised to Restore the Anti-Corruption Act. Instead, They Legalized Direct Donations From Unions and Corporations.

March 14, 2017

Jack's headshot By: Doug Kronaizl
Organizer, Represent South Dakota


When lawmakers in Pierre pushed ahead with their outrageous plan to overturn the results of a free and fair election by repealing the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act, they fell back on one key promise to justify their actions: "trust us, we'll replace it with something just as good."

As the 2017 legislative session in Pierre comes to an end, the legislature has passed a series of so-called "replacement bills" into law, but the Anti-Corruption Act has not been replaced. Not even close.

The handful of so-called "replacement" bills are a joke

These bills are weak and loophole-ridden "replacements" for IM-22, the Anti-Corruption Act. Let's go through them one by one.  

SB 54

What SD politicians say it does: Reorganizes and consolidates state campaign finance law  

What it actually does: With SB 54, SD lawmakers took the shocking step of legalizing contributions from corporations and labor unions directly to politicians. Unscrupulous politicians used a bill sold as a simple "clean up" of campaign finance policy to sneak through a massive change to South Dakota law.

Direct corporate and union donations were already illegal even before voters passed the Anti-Corruption Act, and for good reason. The practice is also banned at the federal level and in many other states.

HB 1073

What SD politicians say it does: Restores the Anti-Corruption Act's $100 lobbyist gift limit

What is actually does: While HB 1073 technically imposes a cap on lobbyist gifts at $100 per year, it contains two glaring loopholes:

  1. It exempts food, drink, and entertainment, which means lobbyists can still spend as much money as they want to wine and dine politicians with lavish meals and events.

  2. Vague wording invites lobbyists to pay for valuable constituent outreach on behalf of the legislator, effectively letting lobbyists act as de facto campaign staff for the very politicians they're being paid to influence.  

HB 1076

What SD politicians say it does: Creates an independent ethics commission just as good as the one created in the Anti-Corruption Act

What is actually does: Where to begin? Unlike the ethics commission created by the Anti-Corruption Act, the "State Government Accountability Board" (SGAB) would be a toothless joke from day one:

  1. Not independent. The board is hand-picked by politicians, has no independent power to sanction offenders, does not have an independently allocated budget, and is in no way protected from political interference.

  2. Legislators are exempt. Believe it or not, the legislators who created the SGAB exempted themselves from being investigated by it.

  3. Governor in control. The board would consist of four members, all appointed by the Governor … with the power to investigate only the Governor's branch.

  4. Closed to the public. All complaints, reports, and information received by the board will be kept from the public by default. The public has no access to information regarding a board member's own conflicts of interest, and there are no safeguards in place for preventing or addressing such conflicts.

  5. Completely toothless. On paper, HB 1076 gives the SGAB the power to punish ethics law violators. But the devil is in the details: SGAB's "punishment" powers are limited to:
    - A public or private reprimand (in other words, a sternly-worded letter)
    - Directing a violator to "engage in coursework or community service"
    - Recommending another form of punishment to the Governor. 

And… that's it. Whereas the ethics commission created under the Anti-Corruption Act had the independence and authority to seek civil enforcement of legal violations, monetary penalties, and orders requiring corrective action, SGAB's toothless "enforcement" capabilities barely qualify as a slap on the wrist. 

HB 1052

What SD politicians say it does: Protects state employees who blow the whistle on potentially illegal conduct from retaliation.

What is actually does: HB 1052 falls wildly short of the whistleblower protections created by the Anti-Corruption Act, which created multiple avenues for whistleblowers to file anonymous reports with an independent ethics commission. 

HB 1052 offers no new ways for whistleblowers to safely and anonymously report government misconduct. Instead, it creates a way for state employees who have already faced retaliation with file a grievance with the Civil Service Commission, placing them at the mercy of the same state government they blew the whistle on in the first place.

SB 27 

What SD politicians say it does: Criminalizes any public official's misappropriation of state funds or property

What it actually does: Another sin of omission, SB 27 requires that the official receive a "direct financial benefit" as a result of his or her behavior, a term that leaves untouched the sort of "soft benefits" that often grease the wheels of influence. 

The legislature didn't even pretend to replace most of IM-22

Most disconcerting are those voter-approved measures that were repealed and not replaced. Provisions enacted by the voters but ignored by legislators include, but are not limited to: comprehensive lobbying restrictions, increased disclosure requirements, lower campaign contribution limits, anonymous corruption tip lines, and easily searchable donor information.

This is flatly unacceptable. South Dakota voters passed a comprehensive statewide Anti-Corruption Act only to have it immediately repealed by the very politicians it was meant to police. Now that South Dakota politicians have been caught in the act, they're scrambling to placate an angry public with weak "replacement" bills so worthless it's insulting.

The people of South Dakota won't stand for anything less than the total replacement of the Anti-Corruption Act, which never should have been repealed in the first place. Until that happens, South Dakota lawmakers should only expect the flood of public outrage and activism to intensify.

We won't take this lying down. Help us organize and fight back.

Represent South Dakota's local chapters are gearing up for the next stage in the fight to restore the Anti-Corruption Act. Here's how you can help:

If you live in South Dakota

South Dakota residents are coming together for a series of Citizen's Anti-Corruption Forums across the state. Represent South Dakota Organizers (including me!) will present concrete next steps to hold our elected officials accountable and ensure the complete restoration of the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act, as well as take questions from the public. 

Check the list below to find a forum near you. Please use RSVP links if you plan to attend — It really helps our organizers get an accurate headcount and arrange transportation for whoever needs it!

Friday, March 17 @ 7:00pm
Pierre Senior Center
401 West Pleasant Drive

Sioux Falls 
Saturday, March 18th @ 2:30 pm
Sioux Falls Central Public Library
200 N Dakota Ave

Rapid City
Sunday, March 19th @ 3:00pm
Rapid City Public Library
610 Quincy St

Wednesday, March 22 @ 6:30pm
Vermillion Public Library, South Dakota Room
18 Church St

If you live outside of South Dakota

Members of grassroots Represent.Us chapters from across the country have generously chipped in to support our South Dakota chapters in their ongoing fight against a well-funded political establishment in Pierre.

You can help us fight tooth and nail to hold politicians accountable and get every provision of the Anti-Corruption Act put back in place. Your donation will help fund:

  • Transportation to help get volunteers to rallies and events across the state

  • Advertising campaigns to keep the pressure on politicians until real replacement bills are passed

  • Local organizers (like me!) to help keep the grassroots pressure on and hold South Dakota politicians accountable

Please, click here to chip in a few dollars if you can.