Amendment W puts lobbyists on notice

Paid lobbyist David Bordewyk recently wrote an op-ed here about Amendment W, the anti-corruption initiative that will appear on the ballot on Nov. 6. While saying that he "fully supports" a debate to consider strengthening South Dakota's ethics laws, Bordewyk takes issue with the Government Accountability Board that Amendment W would create, claiming that "there is no language in Amendment W that explicitly states this new board would be required to follow the open meetings laws." 

Mr. Bordewyk is right. There's also no language on Mt. Rushmore explicitly stating that you can't hang-glide off Teddy Roosevelt's moustache.

Existing South Dakota law makes crystal clear that "official meetings of the state ... and any public body of the state ... are open to the public unless a specific law is cited ... to close the official meeting to the public." SDCL 1-25-1. The South Dakota Attorney General's office states the same thing, writing in its guide to open meetings laws that current South Dakota law "requires that official meetings of public bodies must be public and notice is to be given of such meetings 24 hours in advance of the meetings." There are very limited exceptions to these laws, such as when a body needs to seek legal counsel, and they apply to all public bodies, including the Government Accountability Board.

Amendment W doesn't needlessly republish laws that are already on the books. What it does do is clean up corruption, and put voters back in charge. It makes it illegal for politicians to use state resources for personal gain, gives voters the final say on the laws we pass, and creates a truly independent ethics watchdog to root out corruption and hold rulebreakers accountable. It also lowers the amount of money that donors can give to a candidate, encouraging candidates to seek more small donations from everyday South Dakotans instead of courting big money from a handful of wealthy donors.

Critically, Amendment W also makes it illegal for paid lobbyists to give lavish gifts to politicians. South Dakota is one of only a few states where lobbyists can wine and dine politicians with abandon. We shouldn't be paying our elected leaders to eat free steak dinners from lobbyists who are looking to pad their bottom line. 

So is anyone surprised that the only group opposing Amendment W includes a veritable who's-who of lobbyists?

A close look at South Dakota's campaign finance filings reveals that an incredible 99 percent of total money given to the committee that opposes Amendment W came from organizations that lobby the state Legislature. The largest donor is the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce, which gave $50,650, while Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity and an organization representing the banking industry each gave $25,000. As goes without saying, these groups have a vested interest in preserving politics-as-usual in Pierre. They know how to work the system to get what they want: Well over half of the lobbying groups that gave money to oppose Amendment W hosted events for legislators during the 2018 legislative session. 

It's time to put political power back where it belongs – in the hands of the people. Early last year, hundreds of South Dakotans from across the state came together at educational forums to develop the ideas behind Amendment W. Then, this past year, more than 50,000 South Dakota voters signed petitions to put Amendment W on the ballot. The coalition behind the amendment is made up of conservatives, progressives, and independents alike who have taken a stand against corruption in our state, and who believe that government exists to serve the people, not to line the pockets of lobbyists.

So maybe Mr. Bordewyk should give Amendment W another look. It also doesn't explicitly say anything about bungee jumping from Honest Abe's forehead. But you can find the full text of the measure at