- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Some nonprofit advocacy groups that contribute to South Dakota ballot measure campaigns should be required to disclose their top donors, state House lawmakers voted Thursday.

The chamber voted 42-25 to send the bill to the Senate. It would require the disclosure of the 50 largest contributors to nonprofit groups, including labor organizations, business leagues and social welfare organizations, that give $25,000 or more in a year to a South Dakota ballot measure committee.

House Speaker Mark Mickelson, the bill’s main sponsor, said the quality of an idea and how much importance to place on the message has a lot to do with who is saying it. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard supports the measure, which comes after an election season with 10 ballot questions that brought millions of dollars from out-of-state groups pouring into South Dakota campaigns.

“There is no prohibition. There is no chilling of free speech,” Mickelson said of the bill. “It says, ‘Would you mind giving the recipients of your message a little bit of an idea of who you are so that we can help understand how closely allied your interests are with ours?’”

The measure would also impose the requirement on advocacy groups that spend over $25,000 on independent expenditures within a year. But the bill’s disclosure provisions wouldn’t apply to 501(c)(3) charities, for-profit businesses and contributors who give less than $5,000.



Opponents argue that South Dakota residents have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment and that the bill is an infringement on the First Amendment.

Dale Bartscher of the conservative group Family Heritage Alliance Action said during a committee hearing that the bill should be defeated because free speech is a right of every American.

“Donors to organizations, regardless of their views on public policy matters, should be free to support causes they believe in without the fear of retaliation, harassment or intimidation by some powerful government figures,” Bartscher said.

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