Today, the GOP-led South Dakota legislature completed a brazen plot to use emergency powers to repeal a landmark Anti-Corruption Act passed into law by voter referendum less than three months ago. If you're one of the countless Americans fretting over our decaying democratic institutions, buckle up for another story of politicians hitting new lows.
South Dakota voters ran a passionate grassroots campaign to pass a ballot initiative mandating basic anti-corruption and ethics guidelines for their elected officials -- in a state ranked 47th in the nation in government integrity, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In response, state lawmakers have responded by condescendingly insisting that their constituents didn't understand what they were voting for, and have used procedures traditionally reserved for genuine catastrophes as a way to fast-track a deeply unpopular repeal proposal as quickly and quietly as possible.
By including an "emergency clause" in the repeal bill, the state legislature has denied voters their right to another vote to overturn the repeal of the South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act. The only "emergency" here, as it turns out, is the legislature's desire to both kill the law and prevent voters from doing anything so sensible ever again.
The backlash has been swift and furious. State lawmakers have been flooded with calls from outraged constituents. Republican State Sen. Stace Nelson called the repeal "a disrespectful bums rush" and a "hypocritical assault on the will of South Dakotans." The conservative American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein took to Twitter to describe the repeal effort as "disgusting, appalling fascist behavior."
But the vast majority of state lawmakers, however, remained undeterred. The repeal bill passed the house two weeks ago, and the state finished the job today. The governor has promised to quickly sign it into law. Many South Dakotans who flooded town hall style events over the weekend to demand answers from their state legislators were met with outright hostility, with one state senator reportedly telling a constituent that if she didn't like the repeal, she could "move to Hawaii." Today, a standing room only Senate viewing gallery was packed with angry voters yelling "respect our vote."
What did the people of South Dakota vote for that so frightened lawmakers that they felt compelled to immediately and permanently get rid of it?
Legislators and their immediate family members would be prohibited from accepting gifts from lobbyists worth more than $100 per year. South Dakota is the only state that lets lawmakers accept unlimited, undisclosed gifts from lobbyists.
Bribing a state lawmaker would be a felony, not a misdemeanor.
When a lobbyist tries to influence the governor's office, it would actually count as lobbying and have to be disclosed.
An independent state ethics commission would be created to investigate and enforce anti-corruption and ethics laws. South Dakota remains one of a handful of states without any independent ethics enforcement agency.
Transparency requirements would increase, with more frequent fundraising and lobbying disclosures through a modern, searchable website. Now the press and public have to dig through reams of hand-written forms scanned and uploaded to an aging state website to know where their politicians get their funding will have to continue.
These are the kinds of common sense reforms elected officials are so afraid of.
Our broken system thrives on quid pro quo campaign contributions, Super PAC expenditures and lobbyist schmoozing that are little more than legalized bribery. When American voters tire of politicians sitting on their hands, and try to fix the system on their own, as they did in South Dakota, it is disgusting that lawmakers would exploit powers reserved for true emergencies to spit in voters' faces.
The repeal of South Dakota's Anti-Corruption Act is deeply unpopular, and makes a mockery of the state motto, "Under God, The People Rule." The people of South Dakota are outraged today, and they will not forget quickly. The anti-establishment fervor that won Donald Trump twice the number of votes than Hillary Clinton in the Rushmore State is alive and well, and will come back to haunt repeal proponents in the next election.
Josh Silver is the director of Represent.Us, the nation's largest grassroots anti-corruption organization. Represent.Us helped lead the effort to pass South Dakota's Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act, a sweeping, bipartisan anti-corruption and election reform measure.