Initiated Measure -22—34 Pages and 17,000 Words; A Reach Too Far
by Ron Williamson, President of the Great Plains Public Policy Institute
South Dakota has long been a testing ground for political initiatives brought and funded by out-of-state interests and groups. Initiated Measure 22 (IM-22) is one such measure and one of ten ballot issues. It proposes to revise state campaign finance and lobbying laws, create an entirely new state bureaucracy, create a taxpayer funded public campaign finance program and appropriate state funds.
IM-22 would make some seventy (70) changes to state laws. It is thirty four (34) pages and seventeen thousand (17,000) words long.
Nonprofit organizations such as agriculture cooperatives and associations, advocacy and voter education groups, trade associations, 501(c)(3) organizations, labor unions and others are legally allowed under Federal Law to take positions on legislative matters that impact their missions as long as they do not financially or otherwise support candidates for office. Because they are not engaging in candidate campaigns, they are allowed (under federal law) to protect the privacy of their donors and supporters. IM-22 would overrule these federal and U.S. Constitution protections.
IM-22 would force nonprofit groups that take a position on an issue to report that activity as election spending for or against a partisan candidate if their communications mention an elected official by name.
That means if an Ag organization sent an alert to its members about a proposal to raise taxes on agriculture products and asked members to call members of the legislature to voice their opinion, that activity would be reported as something that supported or opposed particular candidates.
IM-22 goes even farther by requiring groups that issue nonpartisan voter guides to report those guides as partisan campaign activity. For example, if the League of Women Voters, SD Farm Bureau, SD Retailers, or others mailed a nonpartisan voter guide to voters, the group would have to report whether or not the group supports or opposes each candidate they mention by name and how much the group spent on the voter guides. That money would be reported as campaign contributions to the candidates they support.
Not only would this require groups to report campaign spending they aren’t even doing, it would put nonprofit groups in legal jeopardy. Nonprofit groups are banned by federal and state law from engaging in partisan campaign activity. Because IM-22 requires groups to convert nonpartisan activity into partisan campaign activity, tax-deductible nonprofit groups would violate their tax-exempt status and that would put them in legal jeopardy with the IRS.
IM-22 would also require nonprofit groups to report their donors to the state government, who could then make the list public. In America we have the right to support causes we believe in without fear of harassment and intimidation and we have a right to keep our personal beliefs private. IM-22 could allow anyone to look you up and know what causes and groups you support.
IM-22 would also result in inaccurate information being shared. For example, if a museum in South Dakota took a position on a piece of legislation that would send arts funding to local governments and it asked its members to call lawmakers to support the proposal, the museum would be required to report its financial supporters to the state government. Even if those donors didn’t support the piece of legislation. That isn’t shining a light on who is behind what issues, that’s creating false information.
South Dakota’s budget is sound, our state pensions are funded, and our schools continue to improve. The 34 pages and 17,000 words are a reach too far.
Initiated Measure-22 makes too many changes to laws that would hurt the community organizations doing good work for South Dakotans.
Great Plains Public Policy