How an Anti-Corruption Referendum Is Being Overturned by Republican Legislators

January 25th 2017

South Dakota legislators are on the verge of repealing a comprehensive ethics reform package passed by popular vote in November.

In November, 51 percent of South Dakota voters approved the ethics referendum known as Initiated Measure 22, which was widely seen as an effort to reign in corruption in the state. On Monday, Republican lawmakers called a state of emergency in order to repeal that law and make it impossible for voters to reinstate it.

The voter-approved measure limits campaign contributions to state and local representatives and creates a publicly funded apparatus for those seeking to run for office. Additionally, the measure would force outgoing representatives to wait two years before becoming lobbyists and create an independent ethics commission to oversee state legislators.

On Tuesday, the state's House voted 54 to 13 to repeal the bill, sending it to the legislature's Senate where a committee hearing on that matter is scheduled for Wednesday. 

Some opponents of the bill in the legislature have essentially argued that it shines a bad light on them.

"Judge us on the outcome of this legislative session," Republican Larry Rhoden asked of constituents listening to a committee hearing where the law was debated. "Give us a chance to honor the will of the voters, because IM 22 didn't.""

Other opponents, such as Republican Lee Qualm, have claimed that the measure costs too much, unfairly limits political speech by restricting donations, and creates an unelected commission that, itself, is without oversight. Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, citing the costs of the measure, has already made clear his intention to sign its repeal.

State Democrats have argued that overturning the law would be dismissing the will of South Dakota voters. Within a legislature where they are outnumbered 3 to 1, however, they are likely to effectively lose that legislative debate.

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