- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Supporters of a proposed government ethics constitutional amendment have turned in more than 50,000 signatures to put the measure on the 2018 ballot, the initiative campaign said Wednesday.

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. Initiative group Represent South Dakota needs nearly 28,000 valid signatures for it to go before voters in 2018.

The Secretary of State’s office says the amendment is the first 2018 ballot question officials have received for review. The office will conduct a random sampling of the signatures to determine their validity.

The proposal would replace a voter-imposed ethics overhaul called Initiated Measure 22 that South Dakota lawmakers repealed this year.

“South Dakotans clearly demanded change last November with IM 22, but the will of the people was ignored; now the people are one step closer to having the final say,” Mitch Richter, a co-sponsor of the amendment, said in a statement. “This amendment is a response to what the Legislature has done and failed to do.”

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 funded 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.

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. 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.

Don Haggar, state director of South Dakota’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, said he’s concerned because the commission would be a “fourth branch of government” with no check and balance. He also said the state constitution shouldn’t contain political rhetoric or appropriations.

Americans for Prosperity, which fought against the 2016 ballot measure, opposes the new amendment, but hasn’t decided how much of a role it will play in an opposition campaign.

The new amendment would also 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 ban donations from corporations and labor unions to candidates or political parties. 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 proposed amendment also prevents the Legislature from altering or rejecting laws approved by voters without returning to the ballot.

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