Maybe we should encourage out-of-state ballot money

Just a thought as legislators and the governor look to trim state government’s spending because tax revenues are down. Why discourage spending on ballot measure campaigns by groups and people who are from outside South Dakota? Neither voters nor state officials seem to mind when other people across the nation help pay for our highways, farm subsidies and Medicaid.  If the Legislature can assemble enough other reforms on proposing constitutional amendments and initiated measures, South Dakota’s ballot-measure process could take a spot among the national leaders.

There’s HB 1130 from Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, and Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, that would provide for citizens to submit written comments to the secretary of state and for the Legislature’s Executive Board to hold a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment or initiated measure. The first debate on the bill likely comes in the House of Representatives this week.

There’s also SB 77 from Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, and Haggar that calls for requiring fiscal notes so voters can better know the estimated cost to implement a constitutional amendment or an initiated measure. It’s already passed in the Senate and now heads to the House. (In an odd twist, Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke amended it to clarify the process for the fiscal notes; then the five Democrats who were present for the final vote cast nays against the amended version.)

Those two pieces of legislation would bring a framework to future discussions of ballot measures. The complaint last fall wasn’t so much about the amounts of money spent by the warring sides in the IM 22 battle. The rub came from the content of the ads accusing South Dakota officials of corruption.

We had corruption in some notable instances including the Gear Up program, the EB-5 program and various education contracts involving people in important positions such as members of the state Board of Education and a school superintendent. The ads didn’t get into those specifics. Instead the most pointed ad took aim at the lack of a gift ban. The state House voted 66-0 Tuesday for gift restrictions in HB 1073, sponsored by Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls. It now heads to the Senate where Sen. Otten is the lead sponsor.

What happened in 2016 regarding ballot measures wasn’t all that unusual. During the past decade or so, South Dakota’s ballot became a place for outside issues to be tried. Ballot access is relatively easy and South Dakota is considered an inexpensive place to conduct a political campaign. Trying to bar outside money won’t change those conditions.


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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

One thought on “Maybe we should encourage out-of-state ballot money

  1. Donald Pay

    (1) I think we all suspect that 99 percent of fiscal notes are about 1 percent reality and 99 percent b.s. I think fiscal notes should come with a description of how much error is involved in the fiscal note. Has anyone actually studied how accurate these fiscal notes are?

    (2) My experience was that the Legislature was far more compliant to out-of-state interests who lobby their special interest legislation. Why shouldn’t the Legislature show citizens the way by banning lobbyists who are selling legislation that benefits out-of-state interests?
    (3) Since 2001 the Legislature has passed legislation that disfavors South Dakota citizens by tightening and needlessly bureaucratizing the initiative process. The time delays that resulted favor larger out-of-state interests who have a long-term strategy for their pet legislation, and cripples state citizens who have immediate concerns that they want addressed. And they actually think piling more nonsense requirements is going to change this?!!! They SAY they want to preserve the initiative for South Dakota citizens, but the people who are most opposed to it keep piling on legislation that cripples its use for South Dakotans while favoring out-of-state interests. Get a clue!!!! They are trying to kill the initiative. It’s been their long-term goal for decades.

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