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Don’t be spooked by false claims about Amendment W

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Don’t be spooked by false claims about Amendment W

Chase Toms

Chase Toms

Chase Toms

Chase Toms

Chase Toms

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Baylee Dittman recently wrote an op-ed about Amendment W, the anti-corruption initiative that will appear on the ballot next week. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Dittman’s piece ran on All Hallow’s Eve—it’s full of myths, dead arguments, scare tactics and other phantasmic claims.

First is Dittman’s claim that the amendment is “too long and convoluted” for the state constitution. Hardly.

Nearly three-quarters of its provisions are two sentences long. A third of them are a single sentence. What’s convoluted about “A foreign government outside of the United States may not make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any state or local candidate election” or “The offenses of bribery and corrupt solicitation provided under Article III § 28 are felonies punishable as provided by law”?

But this isn’t about length, it’s about power. Two years ago, a majority of South Dakotans voted to approve IM-22, the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act. Yet just a few months later, the state legislature brazenly repealed it, effectively overruling the will of the people. Voters got fired up: More than 50,000 South Dakotans responded by signing petitions to put Amendment W, the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment, on the ballot next week. Unlike IM-22, Amendment W can only be repealed by the people—not by politicians.

Dittman shouldn’t try to raise dead arguments from the grave: South Dakota voters heard these same kinds of claims about IM-22 before they voted to approve it. And Amendment W is one-quarter the length of IM-22.

It also includes its most popular provisions, like banning lavish gifts from lobbyists to politicians and closing the “revolving door” between public service and the lobbying industry. The amendment is concise and declarative, like language in the constitution should be, giving legislators and executive branch officials a clear framework to work with while not cluttering our constitution with excessive details.

Dittman next tries to scare voters by claiming that the independent and nonpartisan ethics watchdog that Amendment W would create, known as the South Dakota Government Accountability Board is “too dangerous” and will act as a “fourth branch of government.”

The truth is much less frightening: The limited powers of the Board are all listed clearly in section 2, provision 15, paragraph three of the amendment, and just like every state agency in South Dakota, there are clear checks and balances in place to ensure that the Board is both independent and accountable. These checks and balances include qualifications for serving on the Board, nonpartisan processes for appointing and removing Board members, term limits and conflict of interest rules.

Also, the text of the amendment clearly states that board members may be removed for specific reasons by the governor with the concurrence of the Senate. Similar rules apply to other state agencies. While Dittman claims the Board cannot “be checked or by any other branch,” the amendment makes it crystal clear that any rule, investigation or sanction by the Board is “subject to judicial review consistent with the Constitution.”

Dittman also seems to believe Amendment W has supernatural powers, writing that if South Dakotans wanted to change Amendment W after it’s adopted, they would “have to wait four years until the next general election to fix what is broken.” But amendments are routinely voted on every two years. Dittman’s op-ed itself makes reference to Amendment Y, which appeared on the primary ballot this past June.

Finally, Dittman argues the amendment’s use of the phrase “notwithstanding any other provisions of the constitution” makes it “too dangerous.” Yet the term “notwithstanding” has been used by South Dakota legislators many, many times throughout our state’s history to provide clarity as to what voters are supporting when we go to the polls. The term “notwithstanding” appears in our state constitution no less than seven times, with the oldest uses having been in our constitution for a century.

In reality, the term “notwithstanding” means the same thing today as it has for 100 years, ensuring that new constitutional language harmonizes with existing language and that when you vote for Amendment W, what you see is what you get.

The only people who should be afraid of Amendment W are the lobbyists and political insiders who profit off the politics-as-usual in Pierre.

Amendment W will clean up corruption and put voters back in charge. It gives voters the final say on the laws we pass, creates an independent ethics watchdog to root out corruption and hold rulebreakers accountable, and helps give South Dakotans more voice in their government. You can find the full text of the Amendment at VoteYesOnW.com.

Chase Toms is a business economics major at South Dakota State University and can be reached at [email protected]

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Don’t be spooked by false claims about Amendment W