Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, saw his plan to reduce South Dakota’s contribution limits for political candidates rejected 7-4 Monday during the final meeting of the Legislature’s Government Accountability Task Force.
Republicans prevailed as the vote split along party lines.
South Dakota voters had approved the same set of lower limits last November, only to have Republican legislators override them two months later in the 2017 session.
Kennedy said he was trying to restore one piece of the campaign and ethics package known as Initiated Measure 22 that South Dakota voters approved in the general election.
IM 22 passed statewide with 180,634 yes to 169,199 no. But it lost in 42 of 66 counties yet won overall because of support in counties with larger voter registrations.
The campaign team that led the fight for IM 22 announced Monday it would be filing a proposed constitutional amendment later this week seeking many of the same changes for the 2018 general election ballot.
The Legislature created the accountability task force as one of a variety of steps meant to appease voters after the January repeal of IM 22. The panel’s purpose was to look at campaign finance reforms.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, signed the IM 22 repeal. Tony Venhuizen, his chief of staff, was a task force member. Venhuizen said Monday his perception of IM 22 was the reduced contribution limits were intended to work with a public campaign financing system.
Kennedy’s proposal Monday called only for the lower limits.
“If we’re going to do half without honoring the other half, we are not honoring the will of the voters,” Venhuizen argued. Venhuizen said he voted against IM 22.
Kennedy agreed his plan was “a piece.”
“I still think this is worth bringing forward to the body (Legislature),” Kennedy said.
Only Democrats – Sen. Billie Sutton of Burke, Rep. Julie Bartling of Gregory, Rep. Karen Soli of Sioux Falls and Kennedy – voted for the lower limits.
Voting against were all Republicans: Sen. Jordan Youngberg of Madison, Sen. Brock Greenfield of Clark, Rep. Mike Stevens of Yankton, Rep. Timothy Johns of Lead, deputy secretary of state Kea Warne, state assistant attorney general Rich Williams and Venhuizen.
Kennedy wanted to keep the maximum contribution by a person to a candidate for governor at $4,000 per year and also would have allowed the candidate and spouse to continue making unlimited donations.
But his plan would have made many changes.
For example, other members of the governor candidate’s immediate family would have been subject to $4,000 per year similar to other persons. They currently can give unrestricted amounts.
Political parties, political action committees, candidate committees and entities likewise can give unrestricted amounts to candidates for governor.
Kennedy would have limited political parties to $40,000 and capped PACs and other candidate committees at $4,000 per year. Entities wouldn’t have been allowed to give any amount.
For lieutenant governor and attorney general, the contribution limits would have become $2,000 for individuals, PACS and candidate committees and $20,000 for political parties.
For secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, commissioner of school and public lands and public utilities commissioner, the contribution limits would have become $1,000 for individuals, PACs and candidate committees and $10,000 for political parties.
Candidates for seats in the Legislature and county government offices currently can’t receive more than $1,000. Kennedy’s proposal would have dropped that to $750 from individuals, PACs and candidate committees and $5,000 from a political party.
Johns, a retired circuit judge, said he couldn’t afford to finance his legislative campaigns by himself. “I think most legislators like the thousand dollars,” Johns said.
Youngberg, the task force’s chairman, said he received one $1,000 contribution last year when he ran for the first time. Youngberg said it would have been possible to circumvent the Kennedy’s limits through creatively using PACs.
The task force recommended a number of other pieces of legislation that will be offered in the 2018 session.