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Lawmakers may end option to pocket leftover campaign cash

PIERRE (AP) -- State lawmakers are weighing new campaign finance regulations that would remove South Dakota from the short list of states that allow politicians to pocket the money in their campaign accounts.

2273896+SD state capitol3.jpg
South Dakota State Capitol

PIERRE (AP) - State lawmakers are weighing new campaign finance regulations that would remove South Dakota from the short list of states that allow politicians to pocket the money in their campaign accounts.

Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton said he's pushing to restrict candidates' ability to tap political contributions for personal use because political office shouldn't be used for personal enrichment. South Dakota is one of just a few states including neighboring North Dakota where withdrawals are legal.

"That's a pretty common theme in South Dakota, I'm afraid, with a lot of different things," Sutton said. "I would venture to say a lot of people don't know that you can currently use the campaign funds for whatever you want."

State campaign finance records show that officials leaving office often give their remaining funds away. Some recently retired lawmakers have held onto the balance of their accounts, but it's difficult to track how former officials use money they keep.

A House panel is scheduled Monday to take up the campaign finance bill, which includes Sutton's provision to limit politicians from using contributions for anything other than campaign-related purposes or donations to charity or another candidate.

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Top Republicans including Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Secretary of State Shantel Krebs support some form of new restrictions. Daugaard said he doesn't think people should be allowed to empty their campaign accounts at the end of their service.

Daugaard, who is serving his final term, had over $1 million in his governor campaign account at the end of 2016. Spokesman Tony Venhuizen said in an email that after he leaves office, Daugaard would consider donations to charity and using it for political purposes.

Former Gov. Bill Janklow in 2011 closed out his state campaign fund, which held more than $850,000, and transferred it to his personal account. The handwritten filing is difficult to read. His son, Russ Janklow, said the money went to charities and the University of South Dakota Foundation.

Several former state lawmakers who recently shuttered their political committees held onto the balance of their campaign accounts. Former Republican Sen. Ried Holien, whose report terminating his political committee listed a nearly $8,200 "consulting" expenditure, said he kept the money to use for his role as national committeeman after checking with most local donors to see if they wanted their money back.

The former lawmaker from Watertown said his new gig is an unpaid position in which he's expected to cover all of his own travel and lodging.

"I had a slightly better situation than some people were presented simply because it's a political fund, and I still had a political office - It's just one I don't get paid for," Holien said. "I figured it's being used for political purposes, and most of the people who gave it to me are happy that I still have a political office."

Ex-Rep. Susy Blake, a Democrat, said she intends to give away the $1,670 she retained from her campaign committee. Former lawmakers David Omdahl and Mike Verchio, both Republicans, each received about $1,700 from terminating their campaign committees. Omdahl said he donated the funds to other campaigns, while Verchio said that he used it to pay himself back for his expenses including gas used traversing his sprawling western South Dakota House district.

"The legislators in this state are so underpaid," Verchio said. "I don't see anything wrong with it going to the individual legislator."

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State lawmakers are paid $6,000 per session plus a per diem allowance.

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