PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A South Dakota political action committee based in Rapid City that sent postcards against her 2022 primary opponent is now behind a round of door to door campaign cards calling for Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller to have full privileges again.
The cards refer to Frye-Mueller as a “conservative champion” and accuse the “Pierre swamp” of trying to silence her: “Liberals and RINOs have stripped Senator Frye-Mueller of all voting rights over political differences.”
A PAC known as Not One Step Back paid for printing the cards, according to its chairman and treasurer, Anthony Mirzayants. He described himself Friday as a 23-year-old “grassroots organizer” and told KELOLAND News in an email, “They were not mailed, they were hand distributed by motivated citizens who want to hold these State Senators accountable.”
Asked how much the cards cost and how many senators were targeted, Mirzayants answered, “You will have to wait for the next finance disclosure deadline to see just how many senators have angry voters in their districts, and sitting legislators will have to decide just how much longer they will continue to go against the will of those voters.”
Frye-Mueller represents District 30 which includes Custer, Fall River and parts of Pennington counties. Mirzayants said he is a registered voter next door in District 32, which includes parts of Pennington County.
Several senators in the Minnehaha and Pennington counties are known to have been targeted with the cards.
Republican Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, in his role as president pro tem of the chamber, stripped Frye-Mueller of her committee assignments after receiving a complaint claiming inappropriate behavior by Frye-Mueller and her husband toward a legislative employee that allegedly violated a Jan. 10, 2023, set of guidelines.
Senators voted to suspend Frye-Mueller and, after a hearing, she was on a 33-1 vote ordered to limit interactions with legislative staff and officially censured but re-instated. Her committee assignments weren’t restored.
Schoenbeck said Friday he hadn’t heard of the cards being distributed in his legislative district.
Mirzayants organized the PAC in mid-2021, listing its purpose as “Defending Liberty and Freedom.” It received $4,835.98 in revenue that year, including $2,000 from Luke Blindert of Sioux Falls, and made a $695 contribution to state lawmaker Taffy Howard’s Republican primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson.
The PAC’s pre-2022 primary report showed $9,000 of revenue — $4,000 from Mirzayants and $5,000 from Blindert — and contributed $2,500 to Bruce Whalen, who was challenging U.S. Sen. John Thune in a Republican primary, and $1,500 to Cole Heisey of Sioux Falls, a Republican legislative candidate. The PAC’s pre-2022 general report showed no additional revenue but included a belated listing of independent expenditures totaling $3,239.83 spent on postcards against Frye-Mueller’s challenger in the June primary, Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin.
The postcards specifically listed Goodwin’s votes on COVID-19 policy, gun rights and spending. Schoenbeck supported Goodwin’s candidacy with a $1,000 contribution from his campaign committee. Goodwin also reported receiving $1,000 from former Governor Dennis Daugaard, $5,000 from Governor Kristi Noem’s legislative PAC and $10,000 from a PAC run by Jordan Mason of Rapid City.
Frye-Mueller defeated Goodwin 2,826-2,791 after a recount.
It is unclear from campaign-finance reports how much Goodwin actually raised and spent running against Frye-Mueller. In the primary, Goodwin reported raising $49,627.17 and spending $23,390, while Frye-Mueller reported raising $5,461.00 and spending $4,351.45. Goodwin in a pre-general report later showed $55,776.17 of income and spending $53,946. In his termination report, Goodwin showed spending of $55,777.27, including $5,516.28 on attorney fees for the recount.
Mason organized the PAC, known as Friends of John Roberts, in 2017, listing himself as chairman and treasurer. It began 2022 with a balance of $1,161.00 and received $12,500 that primary period, including $10,000 from William C. Freytag of Rapid City, and made $11,500 of contributions to candidates, including $10,000 to Goodwin.
Mason told KELOLAND News that he formed the PAC on behalf of John Roberts, who won several terms on the Rapid City municipal council.