GOP activist pleads not guilty in SD robo-call caseMADISON (AP) — A Sioux Falls Republican political activist pleaded not guilty Thursday to orchestrating a robo-call campaign during election season that criticized GOP legislative leaders but lacked the required identifying disclaimers.
By: Dirk Lammers, The Associated Press
MADISON (AP) — A Sioux Falls Republican political activist pleaded not guilty Thursday to orchestrating a robo-call campaign during election season that criticized GOP legislative leaders but lacked the required identifying disclaimers.
State prosecutors allege that Daniel Willard, 31, violated state election law governing the production of campaign ads and communications in the run-up to an election. The complaint cites Willard for four counts of "failing to identify the name and address of the maker of a communication within 60 days of an election."
Willard's attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, entered the plea Thursday morning in Madison.
Tornow, an outgoing state legislator, called the statute "interesting" and said it has flaws. The wording fails to establish exactly what constitutes a "communication" and an "organization," he said.
"Are they a committee? Are they a political action committee? What kind of organization are they?" Tornow asked.
He said one of the counts in the complaint criticizes Willard for failing to state the address or website for the person or organization making the communication.
"I didn't know there's a requirement that somebody has a website," he said.
Assistant Attorney General Brent Jempema, who appeared for the state, declined comment after the hearing.
Attorney General Marty Jackley's office alleges that Willard made calls identifying Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, and Reps. David Lust and Brian Gosch, both Rapid City Republicans, within 60 days of the election without including disclaimers identifying the person or organization paying for the communications.
Calls made to Olson's cellphone formed the basis of the allegations.
According to an affidavit filed by Bryan Gortmaker, director of the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation, Olson received calls to his cell phone on Sept. 12 and Sept. 17.
"Did you know that State Sen. Russell Olson said you were a terrorist and that you do not have the right to free speech when asked why he voted for SB188," the caller said in the Sept. 17 call. "SB188 is a law gutting South Dakota National Guard members' educational benefits during a time when these brave men and women were fighting combat in Afghanistan."
The Sept. 12 call criticized Lust and Gosch for their vote on the same bill, the affidavit said.
The calls stated that they were paid for and authorized by Veterans Against Unethical Politicians.
Gortmaker said in the affidavit that investigators traced the phone number to a prepaid cellphone bought at a Sioux Falls Walmart with Willard's credit card.
Willard is a precinct committeeman for the Minnehaha County Republican Party who served as a delegate for presidential candidate Ron Paul to the state GOP's convention.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Secretary of State Jason Gant asked Jackley in September to investigate automated phone calls criticizing Republican legislative leaders for supposedly not adhering to the party's principles.
Daugaard and Gant, both Republicans, said they wanted to know who was behind the calls and whether they violated state campaign disclosure laws. The anonymous campaign also included letters, postcards and emails. At the time, Daugaard called those behind the calls "cowards."
The misdemeanor charges against Willard carry maximum penalties of a year behind bars and a $2,000 fine.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14.