Clean Up Corruption Through Money

     PIERRE, S.D. (CN) – South Dakota government, ranked more corrupt than any state except Georgia by a government watchdog, can clean up its act by giving voters $100 credits they can give to candidates of their choice, two politicians say in a ballot initiative.
     The Center for Public Integrity ranked South Dakota 49th in its 2011 Corruption Risk Report Card . It got Fs in nine of 14 categories, including political financing, legislative accountability, executive accountability, lobbying disclosure, ethics enforcement, and pension fund management, and a D-minus in judicial accountability.
     (The least corrupt state in the nation that year, according to the Report Card, was New Jersey.)
     Former state Sen. Don Frankenfeld, a Republican, and Rick Weiland, a three-time Democratic congressional candidate, say giving each voter two $50 “credits” they can hand out, is the way to restore public trust.
     Their lengthy South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act would give two “Democracy Credits,” worth $50 apiece, to each registered voter in the state. Voters can give their credit to the state candidate of their choice – or both to the same one.
     According to the 34-page proposal they send to the state attorney general, South Dakota’s political system does not “properly prevent corruption or its appearance and is weakened by: insufficient participation by citizens, who believe that current campaign financing incentives have rendered their role insignificant; rapidly rising costs of elections … force candidates to prioritize special interest donors, often from outside of South Dakota, who have the potential to make large contributions,” and other problems.
     Frankenfeld explained the initiative to Courthouse News.
     “Thirteen states have some mechanism for public finance of political campaigns,” Frankenfeld said. “Of those 13, I wasn’t able to identify any that use Democracy Credits as we are using, or some close variation of that.
     “The distinction is that we are not asking the state of South Dakota to directly support a campaign or to match funds, but rather we’re asking the state to empower voters by giving them these certificates.
     “If it does what we hope it will do, it will lead to much broader political participation and limit the influence of special interest political action committees,” Frankenfeld said.
     To receive the credits, candidates must “agree to limits on campaign contributions and expenditures,” according to Attorney General Marty Jackley’s explanation of the measure.
     For example, a gubernatorial candidate would not be able to accept more than $4,000 in a calendar year from a single donor, be it an individual or a political committee. Single-payer donation limits vary according to the political office sought.
     The proposal requires full disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures, bars anonymous giving by requiring a full name and address from every donor, and includes a lengthy list of expenses that cannot be deemed “campaign expenditures,” such as utility payments, event admissions and vacations.
     It would create a five-person, appointed “ethics commission” to oversee the process, in which no more than two members may come from the same political party.
     “Having an ethics commission with teeth and a financing scheme that incentivizes voters to be involved and that leads candidates to being less dependent on big money is definitely a step in the right direction,” Frankenfeld said.
     Acknowledging that a ballot initiative might seem like an odd choice for passing legislation of this magnitude, Frankenfeld said: “If we did it piecemeal or if it went to the Legislature, they would hack it up pretty badly before it saw the light of day. We wanted to do something that was universal and could apply to other jurisdictions.
     “Most states don’t have a mechanism to get something on the ballot and have it passed into law. It is less of a challenge getting something like this enacted when you have a total population of about 800,000 people, as opposed to California where there are close to 40 million people. We’re hoping that we can get the job done here and apply it to other jurisdictions. Part of the impetus is to be a national model.”
     Petitioners need to gather 13,870 valid signatures to put the proposal on the November 2016 South Dakota ballot.
     Weiland said he will introduce a similar bill in Congress if he is elected to the U.S. Senate.

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