Secretary of State Forgets 2020 Campaign Finances Act, Causes 22 Legislative Candidates to Non-Compliance – Dakota Free Press

At least 22 legislative candidates appear to be non-compliant with South Dakota’s campaign finance law…and it appears their non-compliance stems from bad advice from the Secretary of State.

South Dakota Codified Law 12-27-22 requires that “all candidates running for legislative or county office with a recognized political party must file a pre-primary return if there is a primary race for that particular post in the legislative district or county….” Prior to the 2020 election cycle, legislative candidates who themselves faced no primaries did not have to disclose donors until the pre-general deadline in October. So in 2016, when Brooks Briscoe and Nikki Bootz ran for the District 3 House and I ran for the District 3 Senate without a Democratic primary opponent, we didn’t have to file pre-primary reports. That didn’t sit well with Drew Dennert, who ran as a Republican for District 3 House. Dennert had to go through a primary with Dan Kaiser and Todd Kolden to win one of two House nominations. So Dennert had to declare his donors and finances in May, while his Democratic opponents had to keep their donors and finances secret until May.

In a spirit of openness, Rep. Dennert introduced House Bill 1029 of 2019 to require candidates from non-primary parties to file pre-primary returns when there is a primary among their opponents in another from their district. Dennert says he sat down with the Office of the Secretary of State (newly mastered in January 2019 by Steve Barnett) to craft the statutory language I quote above to ensure he would do exactly what he wanted. This language passed through the House with little opposition, and it sailed through the Senate with barely a no.

The Secretary of State enforced this law in 2020 and candidates complied with it without difficulty. A number of Democratic legislative candidates who themselves did not have a primary but whose Republican neighbors had primaries in 2020 have filed pre-primary reports: see, for example, in the Senate races of 2020, Nancy Kirstein, Jeff Hayward, Erin Royer and Dan Andersson. Rep. Dennert checked the 2020 reports himself, to make sure his new law worked, and he was confident it did.

But this year, 22 legislative candidates – 20 Democrats and 2 Libertarians – who do not face primaries but whose Republican counterparts do not have pre-primary campaign finance reports posted on the Fundraising Report website of the Secretary of State’s campaign:

Senate:

  • Donn Larson (Democrat-16)
  • Darren Freidel (Libertarian-33)

Accommodation:

  • Gary Leighton (D-2)
  • Emily Meier (D-3)
  • Travis Paulson (D-4)
  • Lisa Johnsen (D-7)
  • Marie Perpich (D-7)
  • Nick Winkler (D-9)
  • Kristin Hayward (D-12)
  • Erin Royer (D-12)
  • Mike Huber (D-14)
  • Wendy Mamer (D-14)
  • Matt Ness (D-16)
  • Sean Natchke (L-29)
  • Bret Swanson (D-30)
  • Jonathan M. Old Horse (D-32)
  • Christine Stephenson (D-32)
  • Vince Vidal (D-33)
  • Darla Drew (D-34)
  • Jay Schultz (D-34)
  • Pat Cromwell (D-35)
  • David Hubbard (D-35)

I am not including District 16 Senate Independent candidate Brian Burge on this list because Dennert’s SDCL Amendment 12-27-22 only applies to candidates from recognized political parties. The same goes for Susan Wismer in the District 1 Senate race, in which Republicans have a primary: she originally filed as a Democrat, but that petition was rejected, so she redeployed as a as independent and does not have to file a main preliminary report. The same goes for independent Lora Hubbel in the District 13 home race: While Venhuizen, Thomason, Peterson and Baybridge snatch the Republican primary, Hubbel can hide her two pennies from donors until October.

But I’m including the two Libertarians with the twenty Democratic legislative candidates above because the Libertarians met early in April and named their legislative candidates four weeks before the pre-primary reporting deadline. If the Libertarians had waited until the summer to hold their convention, their candidates for the Legislature in GOP districts 29 and 33 would not have to file pre-primary returns.

But apparently, despite helping Dennert draft this law in 2019 and enforce it in 2020, the Secretary of State decided that none of the above candidates should follow this law. Several candidates on this list told me that they had been told by the secretary of state’s office, as well as county auditors, that only primary ballot candidates were required to file pre-primary campaign finance returns.

Failure to timely file a campaign finance report is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Such failure may also result in a civil penalty of $200 (SDCL 12-27-29.1) and decertification as a candidate (SDCL 12- 27-29.3). But before dropping the hammer on a candidate, the secretary of state must give non-compliant candidates a grace period of up to seven days to remedy the violation (SDCL 12-27-51). And since this non-compliance stems from the Secretary’s erroneous advice, no candidate on this list should be penalized. The secretary must open the campaign finance reporting system, activate the green button for pre-primary filings for these 22 candidates, and accept their reports for at least a week without penalty.

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