Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Anti-Corruption Law Proposed For South Dakota? I'm Supportive. I'm Hopeful. I'm Dubious.

     That everybody seems sick of the influence that money has on the politics of our time is a
A Noble Enterprise
Quixotic But Worthy
given.  
That some folks here in South Dakota are actually making an effort to overturn that status quo is a grand departure from rhetoric, a noble venture into action.  A group calling itself "South Dakotans For Ethics Reform" has just put together a proposed amendment to South Dakota's constitution.  Called The South Dakota Government Accountability And Anti-Corruption Act, the proposal will soon be seeking enough signatures to turn it into an intiative that will appear on the November, 2016, ballot.  Its sponsors say the amendment's intent is to "prevent political bribery, improve transparency, and increase enforcement of South Dakota's ethics laws."
   
     There is one aspect of this venture that is most noteworthy now, during its inception phase. It's the conspicuously bi-partisan nature of its supporters.  Well-known Republicans Don Frankenfeld and David Volk have joined up with Democrat Rick Weiland to give the campaign a broadly supportive kick-start. The effort will get plenty of attention around the state and at the very least will start a lot of conversations about reform.   Republicans who are dismissing it (one writer calls it "a 44-page monstrosity") do so at their peril, because I think a lot of people in both parties are fed-up with the influence of big money, generally, and the lackluster attention to ethics in South Dakota, specifically.  On the latter front, the ridiculously casual effort by our legislature to get to the bottom of the EB-5 scandal that probably cost South Dakota more than $100 million dollars likely put ethics code enforcement issues at the top of our collective political mind and spurred much of the effort on this new initiative.
     No doubt there's a need for an endeavor like this, and to that extent I support it.  But getting it done will be tough, and the writers of the proposal make it all the tougher by including a component
SD Windmill 
Are The Reformers Tilting Futilely?
that to me seems to have nothing to do with campaign and ethics reform. If you go to the link I provided you'll see a clause about empowering voters and small donors by creating a pool of public money to provide them with up to $100 each to be used as donations to state candidates, who "would demonstrate robust community support and commit to raising small contributions from South Dakota residents." Essentially we're talking about public funding to the tune of millions of dollars for political campaigns, and this is where the initiative is likely to bog down. South Dakota taxpayers, me included, will have a tough time going along with the notion that their money should be used to support political aspirants. The state isn't flush enough to direct its meager cash resources at yet another interest competing for the money.

     Much as I like transparency, contribution limits, disclosures to the max and the general thrust of meaningful reform--and much as I'm willing to engage in some discussion and consideration of public financing for candidates--I think inserting that element into this proposed amendment is a poison pill. It's all very frustrating to me because without that clause, this effort has a real chance.  As it is, much of the discussion about it will focus on the public financing aspect, which is gratuitous and irrelevant to the broader reforms set forth by the writers. That discussion is likely to torpedo this otherwise outstanding vessel for real reform in South Dakota politics.  

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