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National State Legislature Observer Says Lowering Campaign Contributions Differs From National Trend

Jenifer Jones

A state legislative committee is hoping to find the right balance in restricting the amount of money given to candidates running for state office.
Last November, voters approved an ethics reform package that reduced the amount of money candidates can receive per calendar year. But the Legislature reduced that package to near original amounts.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the amount of money an individual can give to candidates running for state office is on average $2,000 to $3,000 lower than the national average.
The campaign finance limits in Initiated Measure 22 wanted to lower those amounts even further.
And that goes against the national trend, according to Wendy Underhill. She is director of NCSL’s elections team. Underhill says proponents argue for lifting campaign finance limits, because caps don’t necessarily mean less money in politics. She points to Super PAC’s as an example.
“Contribution limits are contribution limits to campaigns. If you have independent expenditures and other—people might call it soft money or dark money—that is outside of the limits of campaigns, then you could wonder why limit the campaigns to $1,000 or $2,000 when there’s all this other money out there,” Underhill says.
Underhill says inflation and increasing cost of campaigns also cause state legislatures to lift caps on political money.
Underhill says states across the country are also enacting more disclosure requirements.
The state legislature overturned the voter approved limits last session, and reinstated the campaign contribution limits from before IM 22. Senate Bill 54 now gives corporations and unions the ability to donate directly to campaigns.
The committee looking at campaign finance limits plans to take public testimony in both Rapid City and Sioux Falls on the evening of September 11.