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OPINION: SD fails to prevent corruption

A major national study called the State Integrity Investigation recently gave South Dakota an "F" for failure to protect our state government from corruption. Only three states in the nation did worse.

Don Frankenfeld
Don Frankenfeld

A major national study called the State Integrity Investigation recently gave South Dakota an "F" for failure to protect our state government from corruption. Only three states in the nation did worse.

The study - an update of a report released three years ago by a collaboration of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity groups - should set off alarm bells. We are near the bottom of the list in a nation where big money special interest lobbyists and billionaire super PAC donors have near-complete control of elections and politics. The problem is so severe that nearly 9 out of 10 American disapprove of Congress, and feel deeply cynical about politics and the future of our nation.

It doesn't it have to be this way. And less than one year from now, the people will have the opportunity to fix the problems laid out in the report, to fix this embarrassment and illuminate a path toward cleaner, more accountable government for the rest of the nation. South Dakotans for Ethics Reform recently submitted more than 25,000 signatures to place the South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act on the November 2016 ballot. The act would prevent political bribery, increase transparency and voter participation and strengthen enforcement of our laws.

As the co-chairs of South Dakotans for Ethics Reform, we make an unlikely pair. It is not often that a Republican former state senator and Democratic former candidate for U.S. Senate

choose to work together for political reform. But this issue knows no partisan divide. Nearly every single South Dakotan is disgusted with status quo politics. Conservatives and liberals share a strong belief that exchanging money for political influence is corrupt and should be illegal.

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What most people don't realize is we can fix the problem by simply changing the law and enforcing it. If there was ever an issue that should be a ballot initiative, it is this one: the laws that monitor and ensure integrity of the politicians charged with representing everyday South Dakotans.

The scars of corrupt government get deeper every day. Partisans play the blame game against the other party, while hard-working South Dakotans struggle to make ends meet. The middle class pays higher taxes than hedge fund tycoons, while special interests cajole politicians into fat government contracts and unfair tax loopholes. The system is rigged so we, the people, lose.

Under the Anti-Corruption Act, all political spending would be made fully transparent and disclosed to the public, because voters have the right to know who's spending money to influence our government. Lobbyists would no longer be able to influence politicians with unlimited gifts and meals.

An independent ethics commission would be created with the power to investigate government officials and special interests for ethics law violations. And it would incentivize politicians to depend on constituents for campaign support rather than special interest lobbyists. These are commonsense reforms South Dakotans from the right and left can agree on.

According to a May poll, 91 percent of South Dakota voters, regardless of political affiliation, support tough anti-corruption reforms like these. Protectors of the status quo and the special interests who support them are going to do everything they can to malign our effort. They will portray the proposal as something it isn't. They will dismiss it as unrealistic. They will attack us personally.

Our challenge is to stick to facts and principles, and pass a tough anti-corruption law that will transform that failing integrity report from an "F" to a sparkling "A" for excellence. If we the people-conservatives, moderates, independents, libertarians and liberals-do that together, if we approve the Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act, we can and will end status quo politics and restore integrity to South Dakota politics.

Rick Weiland
Rick Weiland

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