Guest Column: The Case for HB 1200 and Ballot Reform (updated)

(Editor’s Note – The table below has been updated to remove a couple of inaccuracies – PP)

The Case for HB 1200 and Ballot Reform
by Mark Mickelson, Speaker of the House

Dakota Territory was divided into North Dakota and South Dakota at statehood for a simple reason.    The 1880’s railroad political lobby wanted four pro-railroad U.S. Senators to continue the federal government’s financial support for the construction of railroad lines.

After gaining statehood in 1889, Civil War veterans and immigrant farmers settled in South Dakota.  Our South Dakota founders did not trust our local government officials completely, as they were afraid they could succumb to the far-away railroad titans to effectively “buy” our government.  As a protection against this measure, South Dakota became the first state in the nation to fully embrace a citizen’s right to petition its government.

It is our right, as South Dakota citizens, to have the public vote on the quality of our ideas at the ballot box if we gather the appropriate number of signatures.

This year we saw this process play out as it was intended in 1889 with the successful 2016 pay-day lending interest rate cap ballot initiative (initiated measure 21).

However, I submit to you that the remaining initiated measures reflect a perversion of our original purpose.  The very system created to protect us against the influence of big money from outside the state has been hijacked by out of state special interests.

In 2016, there were seven initiated measures, including four that proposed to re-write our constitution.

  • Six of the seven ideas were brought to us by out of state political and business interests.
  • $8 million was spent in support of the initiated measures and amendments, 91% from out of state.
  • $12 million was spent in total on the ten measures (including three referred), 83% from out-of-state;
  • Over 60% of the money came from groups that do not have to disclose their contributors; dark money, some say.
  • Three passed, four failed.
Description Pass/Fail Proponents Opponents Money raised Pro (for) Money raised Con (against)
IM 21 36% pay-day lending cap Pass (76%) Former state Rep. Steve Hickey (R), former Daschle staffer Steve Hildebrand (D Select Management Resources (pay-day lending business) $76,243

73% in-state


0% in-state

IM22 Government ethics/public financing for candidates Pass (51.5%) Represent Us

Florence, MA



Americans for Prosperity, DC, Conservative $1,726,198,

2% in-state



2% in-state


IM23 Pro-Union Fail Americans for Fairness

Chicago, Illinois

Labor Union

AGC of South Dakota

National Right to Work Committee


0% in-state



50% in-state


CA S Crime victims rights (Marsy’s law) Pass (70%) Henry Nicholaus (California) and Jason Glodt (in-state Republican lobbyist) Criminal defense bar $2,001,469

0% in-state


100% in-state

CA T Legislative redistricting Fail SD Farmer’s Union, Democrat Party SD Farm Bureau $498,941

100% in-state



100% in-state

CA U Usury law – unlimited interest rate with signature Fail Select Management Resources Center for Responsible Lending $1,879,623

0% in-state


9% in-state

CA V Non-partisan elections Fail Open Primaries

Take It Back, Org.

SD Republican Party $1,819,248

15% in-state




100% in-state

Is it possible out of state interests are using our low signature requirements and cheap media markets in an attempt to buy our ballot initiative process?   If so, they will have turned our state founders’ intent completely on its head.

Our system needs safeguarding if we are to restore our system to one that serves the people of South Dakota.  We have two sensible measures pending which have passed the South Dakota House and are pending in the South Dakota Senate:

HB1074:                This proposal limits certain out of state contributions to a ballot question committee at $100,000.

HB1200:                This proposal requires all organizations which contribute more than $25,000 to a ballot question committee to disclose their top 50 donors.   A transparency measure designed to shed a little light on the contributors associated with these largely out of state organizations.

HB1200 merely asks that a group allow the voter to put a name and face with the otherwise nameless, faceless organizations that come into South Dakota to advocate for their public policy interests.

Think of The Club for Growth (conservative Washington D.C. based think tank); Americans for Fairness (Illinois Union affiliated group); Americans For Prosperity (Washington D.C. conservative – David Koch founded); Represent US (Massachusetts liberal) and many other groups.

These organizations do not have children that attend our schools, they do not attend our churches and you will not see them at the basketball game this weekend.  That is because they do not live here and likely have never been here.   I have worked with their representatives to try to overcome their objections to HB1200 and do you know who is calling their shots?    Their Washington D.C. lawyers.    Let’s limit their involvement unless they can demonstrate either residency or a legitimate business interest in South Dakota.  At the very least, let’s at least make them tell us who they are.

I urge you to contact your state Senator and ask them to support both of these proposals.

8 Replies to “Guest Column: The Case for HB 1200 and Ballot Reform (updated)”

  1. Anonymous

    Just saw this on Nelson’s Twitter feed:

    Come on! Is Mickelson intentionally trying to make House Republicans look stupid?
    This on the heels of:
    Killing the rules change prohibiting legislators having sex with pages and interns (made national news);
    Wollmann scandal & cover up; HB1069 cluster; Vehicle bills; vote trading; Article V Mark Levin mocks by Of House members; leading the opposition to Constitutional Carry; now another national news story making SD Republicans look like Democrats.

    Real good House members. You look terrible!

  2. Repub

    It’s a tough issue. Friendly groups ability to anonymously influence the ballot vs South Dakotans right to know.

    Honestly, I thought Stace would have sided with the little guy on this one.

  3. Troy Jones

    It has always been my position that if you want to influence our elections, be transparent and disclose your identity. Mickelson is wholly right on this issue.

    $10mm spent to influence specific issues which have absolutely no direct impact on these people. Doesn’t it strike you as odd they are just that “caring” about us South Dakotans? There is an ulterior motive and unless they become transparent, I’m going to assume it “dark” AND “perverse” and we have every right to tell them to poop in their own sandbox.

  4. Anonymous

    Mickelson is rightly angry with the people from Represent Us in Massachusetts because they used inexcusable tactics, but HB 1200, which is his bill, would grant them one of the worst things that they wanted in IM 22, which is to expose donors of advocacy groups. Why do the Progressives in MA want that? So that they can silence the conservative majority in South Dakota by limiting their actions and expose their donors so that they can be intimidated and further silenced. Why does Mickelson want that?

  5. grudznick

    Young Mr. Mickelson is a sharp looking fellow and he does like to manner of speech things in a certain way that really knocks people on their arses. I, for one, like this fellow and wish he would run for State Secretary or one of those jobs.

  6. Pingback: Campaign Finance Reform from the Right Defeated in South Dakota - Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly