Indian tribes in South Dakota might get to make campaign donations from their businesses

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A South Dakota law prohibiting tribal governments from contributing to candidates’ campaigns might violate the U.S. Constitution.

That was the perspective Wednesday from state Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission and state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

They told the Senate State Affairs Committee that South Dakota was open to the potential of a lawsuit as long as the law covers tribal entities. It’s been on the books since at least 2007, according to legislative session laws.

The committee decided Wednesday to recommend removing the phrase about ‘Indian tribal entity’ from a list of other government bodies that can’t give money to candidates. The vote was 7-2.

Heinert said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled tribal governments can’t use federal funds for campaign donations but they can contribute revenue from tribal-owned businesses.

SB 128 could come up for Senate consideration as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said he consulted Attorney General Ravnsborg, who recommended removing the phrase ‘Indian tribal entity.’

“Tribes have their own revenue sources through commerce,” Heinert said.

Ravnsborg arrived to answer questions. Senator Al Novstrup, an Aberdeen Republican, asked whether South Dakota would be in “grave danger” of losing in court if the law was challenged.

Ravnsborg said no one has contacted his office or threatened a lawsuit. “But I do believe that possibility does exist,” he said. “We do have some potential exposure. I guess I usually limit my comment on the extent of the exposure, or not, because I have to defend it.”

Voting to endorse the bill were Democrats Heinert and Craig Kennedy of Yankton and Republicans Jim Bolin of Canton, Brock Greenfield of Canton, Kris Langer of Dell Rapids, Jordan Youngberg of Madison and Bob Ewing of Spearfish.

Voting against it were Republicans Novstrup and Joshua Klumb of Mount Vernon.

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