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IM 22 Ballot Measure Creates Public Funded Elections

Photo courtesy of Don Frankenfeld

A group of South Dakotans are hoping to establish a publicly funded campaign finance program in the state. Voters will get the chance to decide whether or not Initiated Measure 22 becomes law in November.

The measure would also prohibit state employees and lawmakers from becoming lobbyists until two years after leaving state government. As well, IM 22 would establish additional requirements for increased reporting of spending of campaign funds.

Supporters of IM 22 say it’s an anti-corruption measure that’s received bi-partisan support.

At the heart of the measure is how it seeks to change campaign financing in the state. Registered voters would receive two vouchers, called democracy credits, worth $50 each, which can be allocated to any candidate of their choosing.

Don Frankenfeld is the co-chair of the IM 22 campaign. He says this measure is meant to shake up the current political system and remove the influence outside money has in South Dakota politics…

“I think it catches the spirit of the times. We’ve heard both from Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that the system is rigged,” Frankenfeld says. “And I think many Americans understand that. Money is one of the reasons that it’s rigged. And small contributors are virtually ignored by candidates these days.”

Frankenfeld says IM 22 could be a model for the rest of the country when it comes to publicly funded political campaigns.

But opponents of the measure, dubbed Defeat 22, say that IM 22 is a poor use of taxpayer dollars. They say the measure is bad for democracy.

Ben Lee is the head of the group Americans for Prosperity South Dakota.

Credit Contributed Photo
Ben Lee is the state director for Americans for Prosperity South Dakota

“I can’t think of an idea any worse for taxpayer dollars than using them to fund politicians’ campaigns,” Lee says. “To take money that could or should go to other South Dakota priorities such as education and public safety and roads, and divert that money and use it for robo-calls and attack ads seems like a terrible idea. It’s not good for taxpayers and it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

Lee says IM22 will not fight political corruption by establishing publicly funded elections.

The measure gives registered voters two vouchers, or democracy credits, to award to a candidate of their choosing.

The democracy credits Initiated Measure 22 establishes are each worth $50. Registered voters in South Dakota get two of those credits to dole out to one or two candidates they like.  Those credits come out of a pool of money from the state general fund.   The size of that pool is based on the number of registered voters.  

Proponents and opponents disagree on the actual cost of the measure.

Ben Lee, with Americans for Prosperity South Dakota, says the fifty dollar democracy credits are misleading…

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but like most government bureaucracy, it does add up,” Lee says. “Two, fifty dollar democracy credits, or $100 per person—there are over 500,000 registered voters in South Dakota. If every one of them participated, that would be $50-million. Now, the measure says it would be capped at $12-million. So, I’m not sure if they’re trying to exclude some people from participating, or if their math is off. But even at $12-million, that’s a huge chunk of money that could be going to more important priorities.”

Lee says he’s not convinced the proponents completely understand how the measure works.

But Frankenfeld, the co-chair for IM 22, says that higher number comes from figures that would estimate 100 percent participation by every registered voter in the state. He says that level of participation would be great, but, he says, it’s a statistical anomaly.

“If the credit has a face value of $100, but the state cannot spend more than nine dollars per registered voter, then the difference between the two will be made up two ways,” Frankenfeld says. “One, and the overwhelmingly likely way, is by low participation—comparatively low, less than 100 percent—maybe 25 percent participation. And the other would be, if we hit that cap, we’ll have to prorate the benefits.”

Frankenfeld says the democracy credits would never exceed one half of one percent of the state’s overall budget. Frankenfeld estimates the total cost of IM 22 is about $4-million dollars.