- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is proposing a rewrite of South Dakota’s campaign finance laws that she said could replace a voter-approved government ethics overhaul Republican lawmakers are expected to repeal during the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

The state’s chief election officer outlined to The Associated Press the wide-ranging changes, which include creating a campaign finance ethics commission, adding financial disclosure requirements and allowing organizations to contribute directly to candidates, among other provisions.

“I don’t feel that the Legislature can get a solid working product put together in two months,” said Krebs, citing her office’s level of experience and the months dedicated to crafting the proposed changes. “I just want to have a product ready to go for them.”

Krebs, a Republican, convened a bipartisan task force to review of the state’s campaign finance laws during the summer, before voters approved the Initiated Measure 22 ethics package. The ballot measure instituted a public campaign finance system, tightened campaign finance and lobbying laws and created an ethics commission.

The new law drew quick condemnation from Republican lawmakers and prompted a court challenge by two dozen GOP legislators and others. A state judge put it on hold while the legal challenge moves forward.

The governor has criticized the campaign to pass the measure as deceptive and said he’d be surprised if the initiative isn’t swept away this year. Krebs said she supports repealing the ballot measure because of her “solid” replacement proposal.

Measure supporters South Dakotans for Integrity hired a lobbyist and have said they’re prepared to fight for it at the Capitol and again at the ballot box, if necessary.

Doug Kronaizl, a spokesman for pro-Initiated Measure 22 group Represent South Dakota, said the organization is encouraging supporters to contact lawmakers and let them know that voters are watching and that they want the Legislature to respect their vote.

He said the group is a local chapter of Represent.Us, a Massachusetts-based organization working to reduce the influence of money in politics that helped fund the South Dakota ballot measure campaign.

Krebs intends to present the new package, which she described as a starting point, to legislative leaders.

Daugaard likes the “high-level concepts, but expects there to be a lot of discussion about the details,” Chief of Staff Tony Venhuizen, who served on Krebs‘ task force, said in an email.

The ethics commission would be patterned after a disciplinary board and would evaluate and enforce complaints over reported campaign finance violations. There would be an appeals process.

The proposed changes would also require political committees to file reports for every campaign finance period. Currently, candidates without a primary challenge don’t have to file a report until shortly before the general election, a significant gap in which donations and spending don’t have to be disclosed.

“We’re not letting anyone off the hook,” Krebs said of the proposal. “Everyone has to report.”

She said the overhaul would allow organizations to donate directly to candidates in an effort to improve transparency. Businesses and other organizations right now funnel donations into political action committees, which can obscure the original source of the money by the time it reaches a candidate.

Another suggested change would require more detail when reporting miscellaneous expenditures in campaign finance documents.

The secretary of state’s office has sent the plan to the Legislative Research Council to be turned into legislation. The language wasn’t yet available Monday on the Legislature’s website.

“I’m very confident that it’s reasonable and fair, and it’s exactly what the citizens, I think, are really wanting,” Krebs said.

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