- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would replace a voter-imposed government ethics overhaul that South Dakota lawmakers repealed this year plan to start building support to put the amendment before voters in 2018, the sponsoring group said Tuesday.

Events will be held in seven cities to train volunteers who will circulate petitions, starting Saturday in Madison, Rapid City and Sioux Falls, Represent South Dakota said in a statement. The amendment would tighten campaign finance and lobbying restrictions, create an independent ethics commission and require that laws changing the ballot question process pass a public vote, among other provisions.

“While the repeal of a law passed by the voters was troubling, seeing the continued outpouring of support from people of all political stripes has been refreshing,” Darrell Solberg, a former Democratic lawmaker and co-chairman of Represent South Dakota, said in the statement.

Represent South Dakota bills itself as conservative, progressive and independent state residents working together to fight corruption. It started as a local offshoot of Represent.Us, a Massachusetts-based organization working to reduce the influence of money in politics that helped fund the 2016 South Dakota ballot measure campaign.

A little over 51 percent of voters supported that government ethics initiative last year, but Republican lawmakers scrubbed the initiative from law just months later citing constitutional concerns. Initiative supporters accused lawmakers of overturning the will of the voters.

Lawmakers passed bills intended to replace provisions of the initiative, but supporters of the ethics overhaul say that the Legislature’s replacements fall short of what the voters approved.

If passed, the new constitutional amendment would largely be protected from legislative changes.

The new amendment would create a seven-member state government accountability board with broad powers to serve as a citizen ethics commission of voters. It would require lawmakers to put $389,000 annually indexed to inflation into a fund administered by the board.

The panel would investigate allegations of corruption and violations of lobbying, campaign finance and government ethics regulations. It would also have the authority to conduct audits of disclosures including for lobbying and campaign finance and impose sanctions such as fines on public officials.

Under current law, a less powerful state watchdog board can investigate statewide officeholders and executive branch employees.

The wide-ranging new amendment would lower campaign donation limits. For example, it would decrease the contribution limit for a state representative from $1,000 a year from individuals to $500 per election cycle. It would also ban donations from corporations and labor unions to candidates or political parties, although they could still donate to other political committees. It also would bar gifts from lobbyists to many public officials.

Currently, there’s an annual $100 limit on gifts that legislators and other public officials can accept from lobbyists, but gifts don’t include food, beverage or entertainment for immediate consumption, among other things.

The new proposed amendment also prevents the Legislature from altering or rejecting laws approved by voters without returning to the ballot. At least 10 states, but not South Dakota, have provisions to protect citizens’ initiatives from state lawmakers.

“At its core, the Anti-Corruption Amendment is about returning power to the people and giving voters the final say,” Represent South Dakota spokesman Doug Kronaizl said in the statement.

Secretary of State Shantel Krebs has approved the amendment petition for signature gathering. The campaign events will be used to teach volunteers how to safety and effectively circulate petitions in their areas, according to group. Supporters would have to submit nearly 28,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state by November 2017 for the amendment to appear on the 2018 ballot.

A different group is proposing a separate constitutional amendment that would also make it harder for the Legislature to tamper with voter initiatives.

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