One of the first measures being brought to fix the damage done by Initiated Measure 22 comes from the Secretary of State’s office, and it contains an interesting provision that might help address some of the problems we just experienced as a result of the multiple measures having been brought to the ballot in 2016:
There are some things I agree with in the bill, and some things I don’t (Raising disclosure threshold to $1000 from $500? Why are we asking for less transparency?) but one thing to keep in mind is that this is just the starting point for one proposal, and there’s a long, long way to go before it’s done.
Most interesting are three sections contained in this measure. First, Section 31 places an affirmative duty on the Attorney General that he “shall investigate and prosecute” violations of 12-27 (or to challenge them civilly) in several instances:
12-27-35. The attorney general shall investigate violations and prosecute any violation of the provisions of this chapter and prosecute any violation thereof relating to a legislative office, statewide office, statewide ballot question, or political committee. In lieu of bringing a criminal action, the attorney general may elect to file a civil action. In a civil action, in addition to other relief, the court may impose a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed ten thousand dollars for each violation. Any civil penalty recovered shall be paid to the state general fund. A civil action brought by the attorney general shall be commenced in Hughes County, in the county where the person resides, or in the county where the organization, political party, entity or political committee has its principal office.
This could mark a departure from things being able to go to the State’s Attorney, such as in the case of Chad Haber, Annette Bosworth’s’ husband, who was charged with similar crimes, but the local State’s Attorney handled it instead of the Attorney General. I’d expect this could be amended, as up until now, prosecutions have not suffered because of there not being a specificity that it must be the AG.
And then there’s the part that really caught my eye, especially as it relates to the financing of ballot measures in South Dakota – Sections 35 & 36:
Section 35. That chapter 12-27 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:
If the contributor is a person or entity, no ballot question committee may accept any contribution that in the aggregate exceeds ten thousand dollars during any calendar year. Notwithstanding any other law, no person or entity may contribute more than ten thousand dollars to any ballot question committee. A ballot question committee shall return within ten days to a contributor any contribution that exceeds the contribution limits provided under chapter 12-27. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Section 36. That chapter 12-27 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:
Any contribution by a person or entity to a political action committee or political party is deemed restricted funds. Any contribution by a political action committee or political party to a ballot question committee shall be sourced with the sourcing provided to the ballot question committee at the time the contribution is made to the ballot question committee.
If a political action committee contributes any restricted funds to a ballot question committee, the restricted funds are counted toward the contribution limitation of the person or entity to that ballot question committee.
Any independent communication expenditure by a person or an entity is counted as part of the limitation on that person’s or entity’s contributions to any political committee.
A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Entity is defined earlier in the measure as a new term:
(9) “Entity,” any corporation, limited liability company, nonprofit corporation, limited liability partnership, limited liability limited partnership, partnership, cooperative, trust except for a trust account representing or containing only a contributor’s personal funds, a business trust, association, club, labor union, or collective bargaining organization; any local, state, or national organization to which a labor organization pays membership or per capita fees, based upon its affiliation or membership; any trade or professional association that receives its funds from membership dues or service fees, whether organized inside or outside the state; any other entity of any kind, except a natural person, that is, has been, or could be recognized by the laws of this state; or any group of persons acting in concert that is not defined as a political committee or political party in this chapter. The term does not include any candidate, public office holder, or political committee;
And, if I’m reading this correctly – “If the contributor is a person or entity, no ballot question committee may accept any contribution that in the aggregate exceeds ten thousand dollars during any calendar year” – it appears that this measure may be an attempt to significantly limit the amount of money that can flow into Ballot Question committees.
So, If single sources are limited in the amount of money they can pump into ballot committees, that may restrict how many of these go on the ballot in the first place. But then again, the flipside is that it will make it more challenging to contest them as well.
Watch this bill. It could get a lot more interesting before it’s over.