‘They took our money and ran’: In Yankton, outgoing GOP executive board withdraws $12K as parting gift
On Nov. 29, three now-former board members of the Yankton GOP created their own political action committee. Days later, they used their waning power in the party to give it $12,000 in county funds.
NOTE: An earlier version of the story incorrectly dated the Yankton County Republican’s first unofficial election. The unofficial election was held Jan. 5, nearly a month after the funds had been moved. Roger Meyer, the outgoing vice chair, said the moving of funds was “proactive” and unrelated to the county elections. The story has also been updated with comments from Meyer, who disputed the characterization that he had not responded to requests for comment, and former State Committeeman Greg Adamson.
YANKTON, S.D. — On Jan. 16, the Yankton County Republicans elected new leadership, with wide margins of county delegates favoring newer members in the county party and showing incumbent board members the door.
But, as the incoming executive board began to attempt to take over the county party's basic mechanisms, such as the Facebook page and bank account — a process that newly-elected Vice Chair Laura Kotalik said was made extremely difficult by the outgoing leadership — they realized something was missing.
According to pre-election disclosures from last October, the county party held $15,530 in net assets, largely earned through small-dollar direct contributions and proceeds from party functions such as the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
On Dec. 7, Butch Becker, the outgoing treasurer, used these assets to write a check for $12,000 to the District 18 Republican Political Action Committee, an organization formed one week earlier by three now-former members of the Yankton County GOP’s executive board: Becker, Vice Chair Roger Meyer and State Committeeman Greg Adamson.
“We've had no cooperation. They haven't given us anything. They are not giving us past minutes, email addresses, the Facebook account. They're not helping with the transition whatsoever,” Stacey Nickels, the newly-elected treasurer, told Forum News Service. “They took our money and ran.”
According to a Jan. 25 filing with the secretary of state, the political action committee (PAC) has reported no other income.
In an interview with Forum News Service, Meyer defended the actions of the former executive board
“The folks that have taken over have not participated in the GOP at all until December of this year,” Meyer said. “The money that was raised was raised over eight years, so these folks have not helped raise any of that money, and have not participated in the Republican Party.”
Meyer further added that the legally defined scope of the PAC is to support Republican candidates, meaning the money will not be used to “go on vacation” or other superfluous activities. Meyer said he “did not know” if the new leadership in the party would spend the money differently.
In an interview with Forum News Service, Adamson made similar comments, arguing that the executive board was well within its rights to transfer the money, and that the more than $3,000 nest egg left to the incoming board is a large sum compared to what most county parties begin with. He added that the committee’s contributions and receipts would be public record.
Upon discovering the missing reserves, the current Yankton County GOP’s executive board wrote a letter to the PAC requesting a return of the funds by Jan. 27. They have not yet received a response, and Meyer said they have no plans on returning the money.
“We've done everything we could to talk with them,” Nickels said.
While the move does not explicitly break any state election laws, as parties and PACs can transfer unlimited sums of money to one another, several members of the county party condemned the move as a moral failing.
“People gave that money to the Yankton County Republican Party to be used for Republican candidates, not for this,” said Rep. Julie Auch, a Republican from Yankton and newcomer to the state House.
Forum News Service offered Becker multiple opportunities to comment and has not yet heard back. While Adamson and Meyer were contacted prior to the initial publication of the story, Meyer said he had not received those messages.
As it turns out, Jan. 16 was not the first time the delegates of the Yankton County Republican Party held an election for new county leadership during this year’s county election cycle.
With radio silence from county leadership after the cancellation of the November monthly meeting and no scheduled meetings in sight, around 30 members of the county party called a session for Jan. 5, 2023.
The plan was to hold the elections for new county leadership, a responsibility that every county party in the state undertakes between Nov. 15 and Jan. 31 after every general election.
Despite electing new leadership — the same set of officials who would end up winning on Jan. 16 — the results were not official, as no members of the current executive board had shown up. New Vice Chair Laura Kotalik felt the delay showed the county party’s fear of new leadership.
“The ones who have held these offices in Yankton for a long time, it was kind of a closed group. They didn’t want other people to be knowledgeable,” Kotalik said.
Incoming Treasurer Stacey Nickels tied the gambit from the outgoing board to a statewide trend of some Republicans in the state resisting changes to the party which have resulted from more widespread participation in local politics among conservatives.
The sea change has taken place in Minnehaha, Pennington and other counties in the state.
“That’s exactly what's happening,” Nickels said. “We want to stand on the platform, and the current establishment really didn't care about standing on the platform from what we looked at from the outside. And if we're going to be the Republican Party, we need to be standing on our platform.”
Rep. Julie Auch, of Yankton, put it more simply, criticizing the outgoing board’s unwillingness to perform their basic responsibility of aiding in the transfer of power.
“They’re sore losers,” she said.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or email@example.com.