Judge Halts South Dakota Campaign Finance Reform

By LACEY LOUWAGIE

PIERRE, S.D. (CN) – A state judge has called for a halt on the implementation of a voter-initiated measure for campaign finance reform in South Dakota after a group of legislators filed suit against the state at the end of November.

The controversial new law, Initiated Measure 22, passed with less than a 52 percent majority on Election Day. Its stated purpose is to clean up corruption in politics by reducing the amount of gifts lawmakers can receive from lobbyists and donors, by implementing more stringent campaign donation and expense reporting requirements and by attempting to garner greater citizen involvement in the election process.

The last goal calls for publicly funded elections, in which registered voters in the state are entitled to two “democracy credits,” each worth $50, that they can then apply to the political candidate of their choice.

But over two dozen legislators sued the state Nov. 23, claiming the new law is rife with constitutional violations.

For example, the requirement that legislators not accept “gifts” of more than $100 from lobbyists or those who employ lobbyists could preclude the part-time legislators and their family members from holding outside employment while the legislature is not in session, since employers in the medical, accounting, insurance, consulting and other fields all employ lobbyists.

The legislators also argued that the “democracy credit” program did not have enough funding to give all voters an equal voice.

Judge Mark Barnett of Hughes County Circuit Court found at least some of the legislators’ arguments to have merit, and he issued a preliminary injunction against the law’s implementation at a hearing on Thursday.

The case will likely head to the state’s Supreme Court next.

“This is just a stop on the bus route,” Barnett said, according to an AP report. “This is going to a much higher power and a much higher pay grade than me.”

The state’s Republican governor, Dennis Daugaard, has also spoken out against the measure, claiming he will not support funding it.

“With only $19.7 million in new revenue, this would cannibalize nearly 25 percent of it,” Daugaard said on Tuesday in his annual budget address.

The state is facing a $26 million budget shortfall against projections, due mainly to a flailing farming economy over the past year.

But despite the measure’s unpopularity, state attorney general Marty Jackley has vowed to defend it.

“It is my duty and responsibility as Attorney General to defend measures adopted by the voters and I will continue to do so,” he said in a statement.