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A Closer Look At SB 54 And Campaign Finance Reform

Lee Strubinger

Senate Bill 54 is a measure that’s meant to rework the state’s campaign finance requirements. The bill narrowly passed through committee and was also a close vote in the senate.

The bill now moves to the house where many are saying it’s liable to further be amended.

SB 54 is the result of a summer study session on campaign finance in South Dakota. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs helped spearhead the task force and brought a bill to the legislature to clarify state statute on contribution limits while also hoping to increase disclosure requirements.

It seeks to further clarify who can give what to whom, how much, and how to report it…

Initiated Measure 22, the voter approved ethics and campaign finance reform package is different. IM 22 reduced the contribution amounts people and organizations and parties can contribute to a candidate for political office.

Since lawmakers repealed IM22, they’re now looking to replace state law with figures and limits of their own.

There have been several amendments to SB 54. During the course of this bill’s hearing in the Senate State Affairs committee it was amended 9 times -- increases in amounts as to what groups (individuals, political action committees, out of state groups) can donate to whom…

There was also an amendment added that prohibits lawmakers from cashing out their fundraised money, and instead requires them to donate to a nonprofit or to another candidate or entity.

Last week, Democrats attempted to hog-house the measure, meaning severely amend the language, with the limits IM22 sought to place. Democrat Senator Billie Sutton floated the amendment.

“They had a real opportunity where they could have taken the language from IM22 and put it into SB 54 and done exactly what the will and intent of the voters was as it related to campaign finance reform,” Sutton says. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen, we brought them a lot of opportunities to do so. We brought a hog house amendment, not only in committee, but on the Senate floor.”

Sutton says he really wanted the IM22 campaign finance limit discussion both in committee and on the floor. But his amendment got tabled both times, which are non-debatable motions.

Republican Senator Bob Ewing chairs the Senate State Affairs committee, which gave the bill a hearing. During the last hearing on the bill, he said there’d been plenty of discussion on SB54 and that more bills related to campaign finance are coming.

“It’s been a difficult chore,” Ewing says. “We’ve tried to put something together to get it on down to the floor. We’ve got other legislation coming from the house side. So, I’m quite sure this is not going to be the end result or the form that we see. But it is a start. It’s a good place to start the discussion.”

There are several different opinions among Republicans on how to handle campaign finance limits. Republican Senator and Majority Leader Blake Curd voted against SB 54. He says cleaning up state campaign finance statute needs more time. That could likely be a legislative task force.

“To assume that we are effectively able to do that  through the course of two to three weeks is somewhat arrogant,” Curd says. “Perhaps should give us reason to pause… We have shown that we are addressing it and interested and continuing to move forward with something meaningful, but at this point it’s going to be difficult for me to say that the product we’ve created here is the best that we can do.”

Senator Curd also says the measure ropes in areas where unlimited spending can occur and set a limit on it.

Other senators, like Senator Jim Bolin says lawmakers shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Bolin indicated he’d like to see what changes the House makes. If the bill is amended in the House, it’ll come back to the Senate to be concurred.

Secretary of State Krebs agrees that the final product is far from being delivered. As far as the campaign finance limits goes, she says her office was looking more at the reporting requirements, not limits.

“I don’t think you’re going to see 54 in its final form until the final days. Because I know there’s still—there’s not a consensus yet. Again, essentially we’re out of that process,” Krebs says. “We provided the working document and the original form of the bill… was more disclosure, more reporting—I wanted more reporting—more reporting to be more often from statewide candidates and I wanted more information from those who were donating.

“That’s essentially the crux of the bill. Beyond that, all the limitations, dollar amounts, and contribution changes that they’ve made,” Krebs continues. “Again, we had current statute already in place… and that’s been the legislature touching that. I don’t think it’s in it’s final form… the way I’m hearing.”

SB 54 passed the senate on legislative crossover day last week by a 19-16 vote. Senate Bill 54 is schedule for hearing in the House State Affairs committee on Monday, March 6.