One of the big South Dakota stories in the news right now is the Roger Hunt anti-abortion donor story. As well all know in 2006 South Dakota voted on a ballot issue-- Referendum 6-- that would ban all abortions in the state. The controversy centers on an anonymous $750,000 donation funneled through Republican State Rep. Roger Hunt.
cross posted at Daily Kos
There are two different types of campaigns-- ballot issue campaigns and candidate campaigns. Donations to candidates themselves are HIGHLY restricted because as a fair democracy we don't want candidates to become or appear corrupt because rich people are "buying" them with extremely large donations. Presidential candidates, for example, can only receive $2,600 per individual and that number is much lower for state and local elections in South Dakota.
Ballot issue campaigns are not so highly regulated because it is more of a "free speech" issue and once the ballot measure is voted on its OVER. In other words ballot issues are fundamentally different from candidates because you can't continue to influence a law after its been passed but you can with a candidate. Because of this there is NO limit to how much you can donate to a ballot issue. Whereas the maximum you can donate to a South Dakota candidate is something like $1,000 (I don't know the exact number) you can legally donate, oh, say, $750,000 to a ballot issue campaign. But there is a catch.
Because ballot issues can conceivably be linked to a candidate there is a requirement that all large donors must DISCLOSE their identity. How can a ballot issue be linked to a candidate? Well for one a candidate may feel personally attatched to a law-- perhaps they proposed it or maybe they just really like it. Additionally, ballot campaigns can create voter databases, try to persuade people to vote their way, and call people on election day to get them out to vote. If a particular issue (like abortion) helps a particular candidate or party (like Roger Hunt or the Republicans) then getting a pro-life voter to vote on election day is almost the same thing as getting a Roger Hunt or Republican voter to the polls too-- once they vote for the ballot measure they will vote for the pro-life party as long as they're there.
So let's put it all together. If Evil Corporation X wants to "buy off" a politician they are severely limited by how much they can donate directly to the politician. But what if they could funnel money to the candidate by fianancing a ballot issue that will help the candidate by getting like-minded voters to the polls? Oh f*. That's right. Evil Coporation X would have to disclose their identity when they make the large donation and then they would be under intense scrutiny (especially if they aren't usually thought of as an anti-abortion Evil Corporation X). I mean, let's say its an oil company. What would an oil company have to do with abortion unless they were really after the Republican party votes in the state legislature?
That's where the Roger Hunt controvery comes in. There is a loophole to the name disclosure element of large ballot issue campaign donations. Small corporations (with only a few share holders) can donate money anonymously. This is because if you have a husband and wife running "Papa and Mama's Diner" and they make a $5,000 donation then its pretty easy to figure out who's doing the donating.
What happened with the abortion campaign and Roger Hunt is that State Rep Roger Hunt (Republican) started one of these little companies. Then he funneled $750,000 from an anonymous source into his company (that he created seemingly soley for this purpose as the corporation has had no economic activity other than that one $750,000 donation funneling) and the company then donated the $750,000 to the anti-abortion campaign in South Dakota. Roger Hunt refused to disclose the name of the donor and no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for it. Who is it? Maybe it's Hyperion. Or the people making the oil pipeline. Or maybe its someone who doesn't like abortion and isn't malicious at all. The point is that the public's faith in the system is undermined because of this. So the attorney general pressed charges to force them to disclose.
The judge dismissed the attorney general's charges because technically what Roger Hunt did was legal (even if it was unethical) because of the small corporation loophole that he exploited. As the Argus Leader reports here the state is appealing that decision. Hopefully the high court of South Dakota will force him to disclose the name.