Restoring Trust & Integrity Plan
In response to South Dakotans’ concerns about the recent onslaught of political scandals in our state, Billie has advocated for good government measures to help restore integrity and trust in state government. South Dakota needs a leader in the Governor’s office willing to fight for the type of open, honest, and accessible government South Dakotans deserve. Billie has a record of championing trust and transparency and will continue to fight to restore government integrity. Here are a few of the ways Billie will do that as your next Governor:
Trust & Accountability
South Dakota has made national headlines in recent years for corruption scandals like GEAR-UP and EB-5. In both cases, the lack of accountability and misuse of public money was rooted in self-dealing by people connected to government. People trusted to make decisions about how your tax dollars are spent have funneled money to fill their own pockets and advance their own interests. Current laws prohibiting self-dealing must be extended to more people involved in government, such as state board members. Rules that currently allow conflict of interests to persist if disclosed and approved should be strengthened to prohibit certain conflicts. Billie has supported legislation to do this in the past, and will fight to improve laws that ban self-dealing as Governor.
Ending the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club
South Dakota has very few laws on the books that prohibit the hiring or appointing of friends, family, or supporters in government positions. It’s time to make sure our positions are filled with the most qualified people and our tax dollars are going to the experts best suited to make an impact in our state, not those with friends in high places or the deepest pockets. Billie will fill appointments with the best equipped applicants, require the same throughout government, and pass laws to end nepotism, patronage, and specials favors to political insiders.
Limiting Gifts and Special Favors
South Dakota may be known for our generosity and hospitality, but government shouldn’t be the place for unchecked giving. It’s time to more strictly define a gift and limit how much lobbyists can give to elected officials and state employees. Currently the definition of a gift has many exceptions and lobbyists can spend without limit on any event or service that could be deemed helpful to “a public official in the performance of official duties.” These exceptions allow lobbyists to provide food, entertainment, or travel to government officials. Public officials shouldn’t get special treatment when tasked to work on behalf of the people. Billie will work to tighten loopholes and keep the people working for you honest.
Strengthening Whistleblower Reporting
We’ve seen too many recent instances of corruption in our state that could have been prevented if we made it easier for good people to speak up when something is wrong. Billie will create a clear internal reporting mechanism for the public and government workers to ensure their corruption concerns are investigated before it’s too late. Billie will work to ensure public servants are required to report suspicions of corruption or mismanagement and have a safe, reliable process to do so.
Strengthening Ethics Commission
South Dakotans deserves a state government as honest and trustworthy as they are. Without strong oversight, government officials are not held accountable. Our current ethics efforts consist of a series of boards and committees appointed by those in power that aren’t enough to guard against corruption. Billie will create an ethics commission with citizen involvement that covers all branches of government with independent investigative and audit authority. Billie will also ensure that this watchdog has the capacity to receive anonymous whistleblower tips and the ability to solicit independent legal counsel when an investigation requires.
Campaign Finance Reform
Limiting Money’s Influence
In 2016, the voters approved stricter contribution limits with Initiated Measure 22. In 2017, the majority in the legislature repealed these limits and refused to pass replacement measures offered by Senator Sutton. A majority of states place limits on the money political parties and PACs can give to candidates, but South Dakota allows unlimited contributions. It’s time to make these changes and ensure money doesn’t decide our elections. Billie will work to restore the will of the people and re-enact voter approved campaign finance limitations, ending unlimited contributions in South Dakota.
Eliminating Pay to Play
In a small state like ours, there’s often overlap between those who contribute to campaigns and those who receive money from the state. The public deserves a transparent disclosure process to fully understand the connections between their government and businesses profiting from taxpayer dollars. Billie will fight to require candidates disclose their donors’ employer on campaign finance reports to shine light on potential conflicts of interest. Billie sponsored legislation to limit political contributions by government contractors receiving $25k or more in state funds to ensure high level donors aren’t being rewarded with state dollars in return for campaign contributions. Billie will also work with the Secretary of State to make sure that campaign finance data is publicly available and easily searchable so voters are able to do their research when choosing a candidate.
Transparency & Open Government
Documents produced using taxpayer dollars should be available to the taxpayers. Under current law many government records are exempt from public disclosure, and according to the Rapid City Journal, “South Dakota is one of 14 states whose government emails are not considered public records.” In the name of transparency, Billie will work to open emails, correspondence, memoranda, calendars or logs of appointments, working papers, and records of telephone calls of state agency officials and employees for public review.
Our government serves the people and there should be an expectation of accountability, openness, and transparency. It’s difficult for the people to hold the government accountable without easy access to records and data. Open.SD.Gov is meant to serve this purpose, but it’s currently little more than a series of links to other resources already available. Billie will work to make the Open SD website the user-friendly tool it should be with searchable databases and access to additional information like campaign finance donor data, elected officials voting records, fiscal documents, and other important government records.
In order to ensure adequate access to the information necessary for voters and watchdogs to hold government accountable, we must keep important public records long enough for mismanagement to be investigated and discovered. Billie worked in the last legislative session to require government agencies maintain fiscal records longer. Although improvement was made, we can do more. The new retention period would not have allowed us to properly investigate GEAR-UP from the inception of the program. In today’s age with many records in digital formats, we ought to be able to keep fiscal and other documents for 10 years or indefinitely.
Public and Press Access to Officials
The press and the public serve as watchdogs of government, acting as additional checks and balances to catch inefficiencies and instances of corruption. It’s imperative that the press and public have regular access to government officials. Billie will set up regular press conferences and public meetings as Governor and will ensure other top agency officials do as well.
Very little information regarding lobbyist compensation and spending is reported to the State for public review. Expenses on a particular bill or policy are not identified and the compensation received by a lobbyist is currently exempt from disclosure. In addition, the disclosures currently required are not audited. As a result, it very difficult to find out how much an organization actually spends influencing legislation in South Dakota. This lack of transparency among lobbyists influencing government decisions results in a lack of public trust in government, and it’s time for a change. We need more detailed and frequent lobbying disclosures that are regularly audited and made accessible to the public.
End Conflicts of Interest
Currently elected officials complete asset disclosure forms when they take office. But these forms provide little information, are not easily searchable, and are not audited. Sources of income of the household are disclosed, but not dollar amounts. It’s difficult to identify and combat serious conflicts of interest if more about the interest isn’t made public. Serious conflicts should be prohibited in state law. We need a more in-depth and audited disclosure process to keep special interests from influencing our laws and officials. A procedure should also be put in place to track government officials and lawmakers after they leave office to ensure the revolving door isn’t paying off officials when they leave government, as was the case in the EB-5 scandal.
Transparency in State Contracts
Current law mandates a call for bids on professional projects costing more than $50,000 and on non-professional projects costing over $25,000. For any contract lower than those amounts, officials can choose vendors without going through the bidding process. Our country is one of free markets, but millions of taxpayer dollars are spent without a bidding process to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently and not steered to political insiders for personal gain as a political favor. When we’re not using the marketplace to find the most efficient price, taxpayers are being short-changed. As governor Billie will work to reform the bidding process to return accountability and transparency to government spending and will require disclosure of multiple contracts to the same entity that cumulatively exceed $50k but were not bid.