As Secretary of State Jason Gant begins investigating a batch of campaign finance violations, the nice folks at the Center for Public Integrity remind us that South Dakota does a pretty poor job of keeping state politics honest. They dinged South Dakota hard in March with the second-lowest rating in the nation for efforts to check government corruption. Now digging more deeply into their data, their State Integrity Investigation finds us 45th in the nation for campaign finance oversight.

We get a 54% on CPI's scorecard, outperforming only Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Utah, and Wyoming. The only A grade goes to 96% Connecticut. The conservatively celebrated den of Daley-Obama iniquity, Illinois, gets a 79% and ties for 7th place with nice places like West Virginia, Washington, and New Jersey.

CPI offers a detailed report card for South Dakota here. Our worst categories lie in the effectiveness of our campaign finance requirements:

  1. We get a zero for our Secretary of State's office independently initiating investigations of individual candidates' campaigns and party finances. CPI describes the low score as meaning, "The agency or entity rarely investigates on its own, or the agency or entity is partisan in its application of this power. It does not cooperate well with other investigatory agencies."
  2. We get another zero in auditing individual candidates and parties. "The finances of individual candidates' campaigns [or parties] are not audited, or the audits performed have no value in tracking contributions. Audits may be performed by entities known to be partisan or biased in their practices."

We also earn zeroes for not limiting PAC contributions to individual candidates or stopping candidates from making personal use of contributions. Recall that Bill Janklow cashed out $852,000 in campaign contributions last year for personal use as he prepared to announce his imminent death.

South Dakota's highest scores (between 75% and 80%) come for citizen access to finance reports. The new online state campaign finance system is getting better as we get more data, and the searchability now of donors as well as candidates and committees is a big plus.

CPI compiled its data prior to this year's primary campaign, so we can hope that Secretary Gant's improvements to our reporting system and promised investigation of various irregularities improves our scores. But South Dakota has some loose campaign finance laws that must be fixed at the Legislative level... by the very characters who profit from those loose laws.