"Emergency" declared to repeal anti-corruption law

January 23, 2017

Doug's headshot By: Dan Krassner
Political Director, Represent.Us

In a plan backed by the billionaire Koch Brothers network, lawmakers in South Dakota are using emergency powers to bypass normal checks and balances and repeal America's first statewide Anti-Corruption Act.

Using a "state of emergency" to overturn this election result is an unprecedented maneuver

Declaring a fake state of emergency so politicians can ignore the will of the voters is a disturbing attack on voter rights – and perhaps for that reason, the repeal bill was introduced late on Friday while the press was distracted covering the inauguration.

The "state of emergency" has two benefits for the politicians attacking the law: it would mean their repeal of the Anti-Corruption Act would take effect immediately, and it denies the voters their right to another vote on the measure through a veto referendum.

The repeal bill would completely gut the Anti-Corruption Act, leaving South Dakota without an independent ethics commission or limits on lobbyist gifts.

The South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act was a historic win

Initiated Measure 22 (IM-22), the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act, was approved by voters in deep-red South Dakota on November 8, 2016. The Anti-Corruption Act is the most sweeping and comprehensive ethics and campaign finance overhaul ever passed at the state ballot. The Anti-Corruption Act includes the following:

  • Stops secret, unlimited gifts from lobbyists to politicians.
  • Requires more transparency, so we know who's buying influence.
  • Creates an independent ethics commission
  • Allows ordinary South Dakotans to make their voices heard instead of politicians only listening to big donors

South Dakota is ranked the 4th most corrupt state in the country, and has been plagued with corruption and conflicts of interest scandals for the past several years.

Why are the Koch Brothers involved?

The Koch Brother's network has been a long-time opponent of the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act, funneling nearly $600,000 to an opposition campaign in a failed attempt to stop the law at the ballot box. Their losing attack was part of a broader Koch-backed effort to keep the identities of large political donors secret from the public.

Now, a Koch backed group in South Dakota has made a "full repeal" of IM-22 its "top legislative priority." They have access to vast financial resources and influence, which will likely come in handy as they lobby state lawmakers to repeal a popular, voter-backed law that cracks down on lobbyist gifts.

South Dakotans – and people across the country – are furious

Even though South Dakota politicians are moving quickly and taking cover under big national media moments, South Dakotans are watching - and they're not happy.

"The South Dakota legislature is making a mockery of American democracy by brazenly overturning the election result," said Doug Kronaizl, spokesperson for Represent South Dakota. "This is the political establishment taking power away from the people and keeping it in the hands of big money, lobbyists and special interests. By silencing its people and overturning the election result with emergency powers, the Rushmore state more closely resembles anti-democratic regimes in Turkey and third world countries."

Since the law was passed on November 8th, South Dakota politicians have spoken loudly about plans to attack it. In response, more than a dozen constituents showed up at the start of the legislative session to demand the attacks stop.

More than 1,000 South Dakotans have signed a petition asking lawmakers to stop repeal efforts, and a video pushing the story out has been viewed more than 100,000 times in less than 24 hours. 

There's still time to save America's first Anti-Corruption Act (but not much)

Gutting a popular anti-corruption law immediately after it's been approved by voters is a very unpopular position to take, which is why South Dakota politicians are trying to rush a repeal through as quickly and quietly as possible.

But if recent history is any indicator, public backlash could still stop South Dakota lawmakers from repeal: the attempt to gut the Congressional Ethics Office backfired in large part due to public outcry. If the public backlash over this continues, it could send a strong warning to South Dakota politicians.