South Dakota legislators swat down proposal to raise campaign contribution limits

“I guarantee you that most of your ordinary, everyday constituents don't even have $1,000,” Rep. Jon Hansen, a Republican from Dell Rapids, said. “But you know who does? Corporate interests.”

Rep. Jon Hansen, a Republican from Dell Rapids, tells the story of how he got elected in 2010 spending just $6,000 during a South Dakota House debate over a raise to campaign contribution limits on Jan. 31.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — A proposal to double the campaign contribution limits to legislative candidates was voted down 37-31 in the South Dakota House on Jan. 31, with opponents fearing the raise would open the door for large donors to further influence state politics.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Roger Chase, of Huron, would have increased contribution limits to statewide candidates from $4,000 to $5,000, and doubled the limit in legislative and county races from $1,000 to $2,000. The increase applies to the statute governing limits for individuals as well as entities such as corporations and nonprofits.

“The last time that this increased was 22 years ago,” Rep. Gary Cammack, a Republican from Union Center, said in favor of the change. “Consider the inflation that has occurred in running a campaign: the cost of radio, television, newspapers and postcards.”

The chief opposition to Chase’s bill was detailed by Rep. Jon Hansen, of Dell Rapids, who noted that he spent a mere $6,000 in his first successful bid for the legislature in 2010.

“What an amazing and uniquely South Dakota experience,” Hansen said of the ability to become a representative with a sum of money dwarfed by expenditures in similar races in other states.


Hansen worried that “big corporate interests” would be among the only beneficiaries of the increase and would turn legislative attention away from constituents.

“If we're honest, I guarantee you that most of your ordinary, everyday constituents don't even have $1,000,” Hansen said. “But you know who does? Corporate interests.”

In rebutting Hansen’s speech, Chase noted that these rules do not apply to the avenue that most large donors use to influence political contests: the political action committee, which can send unlimited donations to candidates and parties. No bills have been filed yet this session to change the powers of political action committees.

Chase added he was surprised by the opposition to the bill, saying he "didn't think we'd have all this debate" on the proposal.

Rep. Carl Perry, a Republican from Aberdeen, who voted against the legislation, credited his decision to the type of campaign he wants to run.

“I would rather have 10 people give me $200 than two people give me $1,000,” Perry said. “I want to have a grassroots campaign, and in order to do that, I’m not going for the big dollars.”

Summer studies allow a group of lawmakers to gain context on important topics and bring in different sets of expertise. This year, they'll focus on nursing home sustainability and county issues.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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