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A South Dakota candidate is facing child abuse charges. What happens to his $12K in campaign funds?

Joel Koskan, a Wood resident running as a Republican to represent District 26 in the South Dakota Senate, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, with one count of felony child abuse for allegedly exposing a minor to a foreseeable harm.

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Joel Koskan exits a Mellette County courtroom behind his lawyer, Clint Sargent, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. He's charged with felony child abuse after a family member accused him of molesting her over a course of five years.
Austin Goss / Dakota News Now
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WOOD, S.D. — As questions loom regarding the campaign of a South Dakota legislative candidate facing felony child abuse charges, more than $12,000 sits in his campaign account, and how that money can be used is highly regulated.

Joel Koskan, a Wood resident running as a Republican to represent District 26 in the South Dakota Senate, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, with one count of felony child abuse for allegedly exposing a minor to a foreseeable harm. The charge stems from a detailed account provided to law enforcement from an adult member of Koskan’s family, who said that Koskan had been “raping her since she was a young child.”

In a probable cause statement supplied to the courts by an agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the woman claimed she was subjected to a pattern of inappropriate touching, molestation and other sexual behaviors from Koskan over the course of roughly five years.

After a months-long investigation by local and state authorities, Koskan was summoned to appear before the court Monday, Nov. 7. During the hearing, Koskan did not enter a plea, and a potential plea agreement proposal was submitted to the judge for review. His bond was increased from $10,000 to $100,000.

Despite calls from the state’s Democratic party for Koskan to “immediately end his campaign,” South Dakota law stipulates that the deadline for a candidate to withdraw from this year’s Nov. 8 election was Aug. 2, leaving Koskan on the ballot.

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Koskan is running for the Senate seat against state Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, who lives in Mission.

Where did Koskan’s money come from?

This year’s Senate race isn’t the first time Koskan has run for state office.

Announcing his first candidacy in 2018 to compete for District 26’s lone seat in the South Dakota Senate, Koskan organized his legislative campaign committee, Joel Koskan for SD Legislature. With his wife serving as his committee’s treasurer, Koskan raised just shy of $11,000 in 2018, disclosing in campaign finance reports that all of it had also been spent by the year’s end. He lost the election to incumbent Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, by a result of 53% to 47%.

Two years later, in 2020, Koskan again filed a petition to seek office as District 26’s senator. After raising roughly $7,100 ahead of the general election (and spending more than half of it), he lost again to Heinert by a slightly smaller margin of 52.8% to 47.2%. He rounded out the year with a balance of $2,004.11.

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Joel Koskan, a candidate for the South Dakota Senate from District 26, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, with a child abuse charge that alleges sexual misconduct against a family member.
Screenshot / Koskan for District 26

As Heinert reached a consecutive term limit in his Senate service at the end of the 2022 legislative session, he opted not to run for election for the state’s House of Representatives, instead announcing his move to the private sector. With the incumbent ineligible for the seat, Koskan filed in February for a third run at the seat.

According to campaign finance documents, Koskan received no campaign contributions and incurred zero campaign expenses between Jan. 6, 2021, and Oct. 4, 2022. With limited cash in the final weeks ahead of Tuesday’s election, the Koskan campaign on Oct. 24 — 10 days before felony charges were filed against Koskan — filed a supplemental report, disclosing more $10,500 in last-minute contributions.

Of those contributions, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee — chaired by Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center — contributed $10,000, while Brule County Republicans added another $500. No additional reports have been filed to show whether Koskan’s campaign has spent any of the funds since their receipt, bringing its balance to $12,504.11.

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What can a candidate do with their money?

As the Democratic Party and members of the public call for an end to Koskan’s campaign, questions remain as to what could happen with the more than $12,000 sitting in the campaign’s account. South Dakota law dictates how campaign money can and cannot be spent — but what happens in court could affect the options Koskan has.

On one hand, Koskan could decide to dissolve his legislative campaign committee. That process would require he file a termination finance report with the secretary of state with a final campaign balance of zero.

To expend the more than $12,000 the campaign currently holds, Koskan would have the option to donate the money to other candidates or political committees or a nonprofit charity organization. Though he could spend it on campaign-related activities, those activities are still regulated by law.

On the other hand, if Koskan remains a viable candidate for future elections, he could simply hold on to the cash for later use.

Though the terms of a potential plea agreement for Koskan remain unclear, the South Dakota secretary of state’s website stipulates that individuals must be “qualified voters” to be eligible for a seat in the state Legislature. South Dakota law bars individuals actively serving felony sentences from maintaining an active voter registration. Thus, if Koskan were to be convicted of the felony child abuse charge, he would not be eligible to hold a seat in the Senate for the duration of a potential sentence.

However, so long as Koskan continues filing campaign finance reports, his committee could remain active and fund a future run for office.

The state’s constitution only bars those convicted of “an infamous crime,” such as bribery, from holding office, unless impeached and barred by the state’s Legislature.

Koskan, whose next court appearance is set for December, could still be elected to the state Senate on Tuesday.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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