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OPINION: SD's pay-to-play culture must end

In a letter sent on Oct. 10, I asked Secretary of State Jason Gant to immediately make a determination as to whether a nonprofit organization is using taxpayer dollars in violation of state law to influence the outcome of Referred Law 14, a budget-busting special interest giveaway program.

As a state legislator whose job it is to protect our tax dollars, I am very concerned that special interests are using our tax dollars to lobby for more of our tax dollars.

What's happened here deserves extra scrutiny from the secretary of state.

In its October monthly magazine, the South Dakota Municipal League, whose member towns and cities pay for their dues with our local sales and property taxes, printed a front-page endorsement of Referred Law 14.

The executive director explained the endorsement within the magazine, which explicitly states its dependence on membership dues -- your tax dollars -- in a disclaimer.

The Municipal League is an organization with interests I often strongly support.

I'm afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. For years, Pierre insiders have rewarded business executives supporting them with state economic development grants, and those directors have returned the favor with big political contributions. I've seen it again and again.

Pierre insiders dole out your tax dollars to special interests. Then special interests kick back your tax dollars for political contributions to Pierre insiders.

It's a culture of kickbacks and pay-to-play that must end.

Democrats have pushed legislation to prevent kickbacks and pay-to-play schemes, but our Republican counterparts in the last two years have repeatedly blocked our efforts -- even while trying to expand a broken program of taxpayer funded giveaways.

Now we know why. Republicans in Pierre depend on using our tax dollars for their campaign treasury. And that's why they are pulling out all the stops to support Referred Law 14.

Fortunately, Secretary of State Jason Gant has the power to investigate this particular issue before the Nov. 6 election on Referred Law 14 if he acts immediately to seek answers for our questions in the letter. Time is of the essence.

No matter what your political persuasion, South Dakotans want fair elections. We don't want government picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

We don't want special interests diverting our tax dollars to influence elections. And we certainly don't want a culture of kickbacks in Pierre.

It's machine politics at its worst, and South Dakotans deserve better.

Our tax dollars and our elections are at stake. Taxpayers deserve answers before Nov. 6.