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With Sutton amendment, SD committees now face some restrictions on campaign spending

PIERRE — South Dakota candidates are dealing this election cycle with a spending restriction that might be the first of its type in the state's history. Their committees are now limited on how they can spend contributions they receive.

State Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton, who is his party's candidate for governor this November against Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, added the restriction in 2017 as an amendment during a conference committee on an already broad measure.

Seconding Sutton's motion was House Speaker Mark Mickelson, a son of the late Gov. George S. Mickelson — and, for a time, until the younger Mickelson returned hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, a Republican candidate for governor, too.

In a recent interview, Sutton said the goal of his restriction was to ban someone from profiting on public service, such as using contributions to buy a vacation home.

He gave a specific example: Bill Janklow. Sutton said the late former governor donated most of his remaining political money to the University of South Dakota to preserve his papers. Sutton said the new law is intended to apply "going forward." Sutton said he didn't want to affect money raised before the restriction took effect July 1, 2017.

"It's accomplished what I wanted," Sutton said.

Senate Bill 54 was the vehicle where Sutton attached the amendment in conference committee. The bill's final version had 41 sections and Sutton's amendment was last. The panel of three House members and three senators, four of them Republicans and two Democrats, unanimously endorsed Sutton's amendment and the final version of the bill.

The full Senate accepted the report 23 to 12, with Democrats splitting three to three. The House vote was 61-6, with Republicans as the only opponents. Days later, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, signed it into law.

Sutton's section said contributions received by a candidate committee may only be used three ways: a purpose related to a candidate's campaign; expenses incident to being a public official or former public official; or donations to another candidate, political committee, or nonprofit charitable organization.

Daugaard, who last sought re-election in 2014, still has a lot in his campaign account. His pre-primary report from May showed $896,349.70. That's down from $1,423,327.13 he had at the end of 2014 after his last election.

There were zero contributions. Spending ran $38,438.10 for expenses, including $3,662.07 for flowers and gifts, and $64,780 in itemized contributions to others, including $50,000 to Lt. Gov. Matt Michels.

"The governor plans to expend this fund over time," explained Tony Venhuizen, who is Daugaard's chief of staff.

As for the $50,000 to Michels, Venhuizen said the lieutenant governor "has helped raise that money over the years, and the reason for the $50,000 donation is to allow him to also engage in charitable or political purposes in the future."

Daugaard's campaign treasurer has long been Linda Mickelson Graham, mother of the House speaker and widow of the late governor, who died with seven other men in the 1993 crash of the state airplane. She has since married again.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds still operates his Rounds For Governor campaign committee 12 years after he last sought re-election to South Dakota's top state office.

Rounds' pre-primary report from May showed zero spending, interest earnings of $19.48 and a balance of $118,555.42. His 2017 year-end report noted a $10 fee — for the account being dormant.

At a glance

For more information about filing a campaign-finance complaint in South Dakota, visit https://bit.ly/2OVqn8S.

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