Sioux Falls writer Michael Wyland had an interesting article out today about the Chiesman Foundation’s campaign criticizing the State Legislature (as we had noted earlier) and encouraging people to blindly sign petitions.
Interestingly, Wyland notes that we’ll probably never see what was spent on this effort on any campaign finance report, despite it consisting of a private company attempting to influence the political process:
The South Dakota blogosphere lit up recently with the release of a video and web site by the Rapid City-based Chiesman Center for Democracy, associated with the Chiesman Foundation. There was little information available about the “Join the Conversation” campaign, including most importantly who was funding this effort to influence South Dakota voters to sign petitions to place various political issues on the state’s 2018 general election ballot.
Unraveling the story presents a case study of how transparency works far better than secrecy when becoming involved in public political dialogue, and how that secrecy can produce unintended and potentially harmful consequences. It also shows how one company or one individual can influence the political system without ever showing up on a campaign finance disclosure form.
Media One produced a short video themed “Join the Conversation,” featuring petition circulators in several South Dakota locations encouraging civic participation through signing their petitions. In addition, Media One build a website, jointheconversationsd.org, to host the video and provide a link to the list of petitions being circulated.
Media One contacted several foundations and other nonprofits through which it might disseminate the “Join the Conversation” message, and the Chiesman Center for Democracy agreed to promote the video and website.
Unfortunately, looking at publicly available Internet-based information leads to a far different conclusion than does a simple conversation with the two people most intimately involved with the effort. If Chiesman had publicly acknowledged and thanked Media One for its providing the web site and video, and if Media One had participated openly in the promotion effort for the campaign the firm created and financed, questions would have been far fewer and suspicions would have been all but eliminated.
The article doesn’t delve into the reason for the tone of the advertising campaign which attacked the legislature by claiming “most South Dakotans disapprove of the job our state legislature is doing,“ based on a poll by PPP, a Democratic polling firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
As I’ve heard rumored, the end of result is that it may have affected how willing legislators are to support the organization.
Now, seeing that this material was produced and provided to them, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with Michael that “questions would have been far fewer and suspicions would have been all but eliminated.”