Fundraising is key for Dems, new leader saysThe South Dakota Democratic Party must raise and spend more money to become competitive in races across the state, according to its new chairman and executive director. Ben Nesselhuf, who holds both jobs for the party, said money was a primary focus during a recent meeting in Oacoma.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The South Dakota Democratic Party must raise and spend more money to become competitive in races across the state, according to its new chairman and executive director.
Ben Nesselhuf, who holds both jobs for the party, said money was a primary focus during a recent meeting in Oacoma.
“We have money in the bank right now and my goal as chairman is to increase that amount so that we will be competitive in the 2012 elections,” Nesselhuf said in a reply to several e-mailed questions from The Daily Republic.
“We also formed an organization tentatively called the South Dakota Association of Democratic Local Officials to work with candidates for the city council and school boards around the state,” he said. “This is very important. Many times candidates in local races are totally on their own. We have good Democrats running all over the state and we want to support their efforts.”
Nesselhuf declined to detail the state party’s financial status now or reveal how much it raised and spent in 2010.
“I really don’t want to get into specifics because, even though we file an FEC report every month on our federal account, we don’t have to file on our state account until the end of the year,” Nesselhuf said. “There is some strategy with what account has how much money and I don’t want to tip our hand until I have to.”
He said he didn’t even want to know what the South Dakota Democratic Party had generated financially in the past, terming it “wholly depressing to look through. It wasn’t enough.”
That’s clear in reviewing the financial reports.
Republican Rich Sattgast raised $44,962 in his wining race for state treasurer. His Democratic opponent, Tom Katus, raised $19,872.
Republican Marty Jackley raised $461,028 in his successful run for attorney general. His Democratic opponent, Ron Volesky, raised $828.
Commissioner of School and Public Lands Jarrod Johnson collected $22,097 in his successful bid for a second term. His Democratic opponent, Bob Pille, did not raise a cent.
During the 2009-10 election cycle, Republican candidates for federal office and national GOP committees received $3.6 million from South Dakotans who donated at least $200, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Meanwhile, Democrats collected $950,000 in the same cycle, according to the website, which tracks political spending and collections.
The state parties had a similar disparity, with Republicans raising far more money during the 2010 campaign, according to reports filed with the South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office.
Nesselhuf earned praise from other Democrats for the amount of money he raised in his campaign for South Dakota secretary of state, collecting $192,449. It set a record for a Democratic candidate for the race, he said, but he still lost to Republican Jason Gant, who raised $261,205.
That ability to raise money was among the reasons cited when party officials chose Nesselhuf as chairman of the party in early 2011.
He announced he would combine the offices of chairman and executive director and focus on putting the party on a path to fiscal health.
“I’m a big believer in fundraising and want to bring us to parity with the Republicans. That will take a cycle or two,” he said.
“We can’t just pass the hat around the Capitol and expect people to write big checks,” Nesselhuf said. “It is a heavy lift, but the Republicans in the Legislature are doing everything they can to make it easier for me.
“I will never be satisfied with our fundraising, but we are in the best financial shape that we have been in for 10 years,” he said. “I feel very good about where we are starting the cycle. We will continue to raise money every day.”
Last weekend’s meetings were held at Cedar Shore Resort in Oacoma.
The state party’s Executive Board and State Central Committee held meetings. The Central Committee is made up of the party chairman, vice chairman and committeeman and woman from each county in the state.
The Executive Board consists of the state officers of the party and regional representatives. There are about 20 members on the board, Nesselhuf said.
“We hold these meetings quarterly to set policy and direction for the state party,” he said. “That is in the constitution, so it will not change under my leadership, but I do want to involve the committee more then it has been involved in the past.”
Nesselhuf said in addition to raising money, South Dakota Democrats will focus on the recently completed 2011 legislative session and Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s performance.
“Candidate Daugaard was telling a very different story six months ago than Governor Daugaard was telling during session,” he said. “We believe that the people of South Dakota would not have supported a candidate who planned to balance the budget on the backs of the young and the needy while creating a corporate slush fund.
“That is exactly what the governor and the ‘Ruling Class Republicans’ did. It is up to us to provide an alternative to the voters so that people understand there is a choice.”
The session also created an interest among Democrats across the state who now want to run for office, Nesselhuf said.
“Every day I am fielding calls from people who want to run for the Legislature,” he said. “It is clear that people are starting to pay attention and realize that the 70 percent of voters in South Dakota who do not vote straight-ticket Republican have no voice in Pierre.”
While the new leader of the state Democratic Party focuses on rebuilding it, the executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, Lucas Lentsch, has left after two years to take a post with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.
Lentsch led a party that raised millions and won huge majorities in both houses of the Legislature, saw Daugaard sweep to a resounding win as governor and won all races for constitutional offices.
U.S. Sen. John Thune was uncontested for a second term and Kristi Noem defeated incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.
“I’m really proud of the shape the party’s in politically and financially,” Lentsch said of the state Republican Party in his first week in his new job. “It’s on very solid ground.”
Nesselhuf offered Lentsch a compliment — in a way.
“I always thought Lucas was much nicer in person then he came across in the press releases the SD GOP sent out,” he said.
Nesselhuf said he is enjoying his new role.
“I have the best job in South Dakota,” he said. “I wake up every day with the goal of bringing back two-party government. I can think of no better way of serving this state or the people of it.”