Gordon Howie, a Rapid City tea party leader, writes on his blog that conservative former legislator Bill Napoli “appears to be running” for Senate and has met with a “fundraising committee.”
Two takeaways about this report, which is based entirely on a collection of anonymous sources:
1. Gordon Howie is not a reporter, he is a close friend and ally of Napoli. So if anyone would know Napoli’s plans, it’s Howie. All those “reliable sources confirmed” throughout the piece could be a fig leaf — those “sources” could be Napoli himself, making this a slightly camouflaged press release.
2. Howie also has an agenda here. As someone who has waged war against the Republican establishment in South Dakota, he very much wants to see someone challenge Mike Rounds for Senate. This report may just be a way of generating publicity when nothing has actually changed.
Here’s the news in this report: Napoli met this week with supporters, who have made pledges to support him financially, Supposedly a $1 million fundraising goal has been set and $500,000 committed. And a Napoli supporter has reached out to the national Senate Conservatives Fund, which is looking for a Rounds alternative to back.
But a month ago, I spoke to Napoli for a story on the developing race. He told me then he had met with supporters who had promised to donate money if he ran. The Senate Conservatives Fund had not yet criticized Rounds, so that development is new, but the story doesn’t say whether that group has gotten back to Napoli or suggested they might support him.
At the time, Napoli said he was waiting for Rep. Kristi Noem to decide if she would run:
“Kristi Noem is going to run, I’m going to support Kristi Noem, and she’s going to win,” said Bill Napoli, a former state legislator from Rapid City.
If Noem doesn’t run, Napoli said he’d consider entering the race himself.
“I have a considerable amount of money that’s been pledged already,” he said. “I have a good, solid crew of people that are ready to go to work. They, too, are waiting for Kristi’s announcement.”
Since then Noem has done nothing to tamp down the possibility of a challenge to Rounds.
So take your pick — read this Howie story as an insider giving secrets about what’s about to happen, or as an attempt to get publicity — and thus money and support — for something that will only happen if it gets enough money and support.
(This post has been updated — see below.)
Back when the first bout of robocalls emerged on Aug. 7 (it seems so much longer ago), I called up several people sympathetic to the calls and asked them about the criticism of the anonymity — especially the implication that the calls were illegal.
Both Rep. Stace Nelson and Gordon Howie independently told me at the time they thought the calls, postcards and emails were legal despite the lack of identification about who was paying for them. That’s because of a law governing what’s called “electioneering” communications — ads or other communications that mention candidates, but don’t tell people how to vote.
If you’ve listened to some of these robocalls, you’ll notice they very carefully don’t tell you to vote for or against someone. (Indeed, they often go to people living outside the targets’ district who COULDN’T vote for them.)
South Dakota’s electioneering law allows these communications without disclosure — up until a point. SDCL 12-27-16:
(2) Any person or organization that makes an expenditure, including the payment of money or exchange of other valuable consideration or promise, for a communication that clearly identifies a candidate or public office holder, but does not expressly advocate the election or defeat of the candidate or public office holder, and that is disseminated, broadcast, or otherwise published within sixty days of an election shall append to or include in the communication a disclaimer that clearly and forthrightly:
(a) Identifies the person or organization making the expenditure for that communication; and
(b) States the address or website address of the person or organization.
A violation of this subdivision is a Class 1 misdemeanor;
Sixty days until the election was Sept. 7.
Had the robocalls said, “Vote against David Lust” instead of “call the Rapid City Journal and ask them to investigate,” they would have had to file campaign finance reports any time.
Because they didn’t tell recipients how to vote, they would appear to fall under the electioneering exemption that let them avoid filing campaign finance reports for any electioneering before Sept. 7.
But we have seen continued robocalls since that date, which would appear to be required to at the very least identify the person and organization (which the ads have ARGUABLY done with their reference to “Veterans Against Unethical Politicians”) and identify an address or website address, which they have not done.
UPDATE: Rep. Stace Nelson, a sympathizer to the people behind the robocalls, argued they didn’t actually violate the law — at least, not the spirit of the law.
“It looks like the legislative intent was for people to be able to contact whoever was doing it,” Nelson said. “The fact that they provided a telephone number with an answering service looks to me to be in substantial compliance.”
Depending on how much money the people behind these robocalls are spending, they may or may not be required to file campaign finance reports. The law requires filing reports as soon as spending on electioneering communications exceeds $2,000.
Nelson said he “personally (has) been looking for cheap robocall services” and just “got an email message from a campaign company saying they’ll do campaign calls for less than two cents apiece.”
If the rate for robocalling were two cents, someone could place 100,000 calls before hitting this threshold. If each of these calls contacts 1,000 people, that’s 100 robocalls. If they each target 5,000, that’s 20 calls. The counting would appear to only start on Sept. 7, though I may be wrong.
Most indications are these robocalls are not targeting a huge population, but we don’t know exactly how many people are getting them.
Attorney General Marty Jackley just emailed the press to note that he would be using 12-27-16 in his investigation of these robocalls at Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s request.
Part of the discussion between Gordon Howie and Bill Napoli in their latest web video made my inner historian sit bolt upright. They were talking about present day politics, but with language and ideas that recalled some of the earliest debates of the American Republic.
Here’s excerpts from that exchange:
Napoli: If you had a scale of 1 to 10 and you put principle on there, it would probably be about 4 or 5 (for voters). It would not be at the top of the list, for sure.
Howie: It is for some conservatives, though. I am always hopeful, in every election… that Republicans will come out and vote principle, not personality, not even party. If they do, conservatives win, don’t they?
Howie: If principle matters at all, then the right people would win.
Napoli: But that’s not the case.
Howie: We know that if principle would prevail, someone like Sen. Napoli would go to the United States Senate.
What you have there is an idea that principle, and the right thing to do, is self-evident. People who pursue policies other than that one right path are being un-principled or are corrupt.
Congratulations, Gordon: you’re in good company. Most of the Founding Fathers agreed with you.
The following all comes from James Roger Sharp’s “American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis.”
In the early Republic, the idea of a loyal opposition had few precedents. In England, the Whigs and the Tories made a point of saying “If a man is in opposition he opposes the Ministers and government not the King personally,” making the monarchy a symbol of unity. But “there was no comparable institution in the United States symbolizing the unity and sovereignty of the country and providing consensual boundaries within which opposition might be expressed or party competition might temporarily occur.” (p. 5)
So Thomas Jefferson’s “Republicans believed that they and they alone were the interpreters and translators of the wishes of a fictive sovereign people. But so did the Federalists. Under such circumstances, there could be little tolerance of opposition, for each proto-party was dedicated to the ultimate destruction of its political enemies, who were enemies of the people.” (p. 10)
When Americans voted repeatedly for Federalists in the 1790s, Jefferson didn’t see that as a sovereign people choosing the opposition. It was “evidence rather that the people had been temporarily misled by unscrupulous leaders outside the republican consensus, leaders who had been animated by crass, self-interested, and partisan objectives.” (p. 277)
The very preservation of republicanism and the Constitution “depended” on the Jeffersonians’ “own continued political ascendancy.” (p. 277-8)
Eventually, Sharp writes, the Constitution and the Supreme Court would “become the final arbiters of the limits of national power and authority.” Until then, though, Jefferson spoke for many when he declared “The Republicans are the nation.” (p. 288)
This stands in contrast to what Martin Van Buren built for Andrew Jackson — the Second Party System.
“Unlike the Founding Fathers, Van Buren argued that the partisanship of political parties did not threaten republicanism but rather made a positive, if not essential, contribution to the American political system… (I)n direct contradiction to the older generation of public men… Van Buren asserted that an organized opposition, far from being dangerous, had a powerful, beneficial role in forcing the majority party to seek unity and cohesion in order to escape defeat.” (p. 285)
It wasn’t until 1844 that a political party won the presidency after previously losing it. “Before this, political parties that had lost power had also lost their legitimacy, so to speak, to represent the public’s articulation of the national will.” (p. 287)
Today our politics largely operates on principles of pluralism — the belief that while one point of view might be BETTER than others, multiple viewpoints are acceptable and potentially valid. Sharp argues this wasn’t shared by many of the Founding Fathers, and it would seem that Howie and Napoli reject the modern day consensus in favor of a position Thomas Jefferson might recognize.
Gordon Howie, the activist and former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, released a new video on his website in which he pumps up fellow ex-Sen. Bill Napoli as a possible conservative candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014 against possible candidates Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem.
Napoli, who also appears in the video, plays coy about the whole thing, but both men agree that “someone like Bill Napoli” should run. (They also agree that someone like Gordon Howie should run for governor, though Howie also plays coy about whether he’s giving that another shot.)
You can watch the whole six-minute conversation below, which includes some questionable political theorizing — including that if voters just voted their principle, conservatives would win every time*, and that the only reason Barack Obama won in 2008 is because Christians stayed home — and allegations that John Thune has “changed so much” that his “strong conservative belief… is gone completely.”
*This asterisked statement is something I am going to revisit in a future post; it’s got a long historical provenance and, as this video shows, remains relevant. UPDATE: Read my take on this point here.
Earlier today, leaders in the South Dakota House of Representatives were criticized in a robocall, postcard and email campaign that went out across the state.
All three criticized leaders like House Majority Leader David Lust, Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Gosch, Assistant Majority Leader Justin Cronin and Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson for allegedly being hostile to veterans.
A few things. First of all, the specific allegations. The robocall accuses Lust, Gosch, Cronin and Olson of “voting to deny college benefits” to veterans. That appears to be a reference to SB 188 from 2011, which sunsetted the state’s program of giving veterans 50 percent discounts off in-state tuition at South Dakota universities. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate (where Olson voted for it), and passed narrowly in the Senate, where Lust, Gosch and Cronin all voted for it.
The postcard and email list a number of other votes, which I’m presuming are accurate but didn’t have time to check — they list the bill number and the vote for each one. Whether those votes actually indicate opposition to veterans is up to you to decide — the lawmakers might argue those votes aren’t as simple as the postcards indicate.
More interesting is the question of who these ads are from. None of these three efforts include the standard “Paid for by the Anti-Lust PAC” disclaimer that you typically see. The robocall, which is spoken by a child, simply says, “paid for by my grandpa.” The number the robocall came from was 605-251-7897, which comes up as a Lincoln County cell phone. I called the number; it went to voice mail with no recorded message, just a computer reciting the number I had called.
The email lists an organization called ReaganRepublicSD with an address at a PO Box in Chicago that Powers suggests is a PO Box farm because a lot of other businesses share that address.
The postcard lists the “Vires et Honestas PAC” and a return address at 7360 Sanderson Place, Cincinnati, OH.
There’s no Google hits for that PAC. Search for the address and you get two prominent results: someone named “Kevin Hughes,” and a listing that the site is an honorary Italian Consulate.
I’ve left a message at a number I believe is Mr. Hughes’ and have not yet heard back.
I also spent some time on the phone with the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. They confirmed to me that they do not currently have a consulate in Cincinnati, and have not had one there since 1999.
Coincidentally or not, real estate listings for that house on Sanderson Place say it was last sold in 1999.
(Unfortunately, this means we can’t call this political attack “The Italian Job.”)
I called up a few of the usual suspects for an attack on legislative leadership (sorry, I just rewatched “Casablanca”).
Gordon Howie, who led a bunch of campaigns against establishment Republicans in the June 5 primary, said he is “not involved in it in any way” and doesn’t know who is.
But he argued that the important thing is the charges the attacks made, not who sent them out.
Rep. Stace Nelson, who’s been engaged in a loud and brutal political war with Lust, Gosch et al for some time, also denied knowledge but endorsed the substance of the attack.
“I didn’t put the postcard out and I didn’t make the telephone call,” Nelson told me. “From what I’ve seen that’s an accurate reflection of their voting records on these veterans’ issues. I’m with Abe on that. I’m disgusted.”
I’ll continue to update as I get more information.
UPDATE: See my follow-up post on Secretary of State Jason Gant’s investigation into the legality of these attacks.
Right before the primary, I reported on the candidates who hadn’t filed campaign finance reports before the primary.
It turns out that most of the 13 candidates who missed the deadline got their reports in within a few weeks — still way too late for citizens who want to see what’s being spent BEFORE the election — as did most of the 53 political action committees who also missed that deadline.
But some reports were still missing almost two months after they were supposed to be in the Secretary of State’s office: eight PACs, two committees and four candidates.
I reported on those missing reports in today’s Argus Leader. Read my story here.
It’s a bipartisan group. Along with conservative PACs and candidates like the South Dakota Tea Party PAC and Republican House candidate Jeanette Deurloo were liberal groups like Rep. Kevin Killer’s SD NDN Election Efforts and three Democratic House candidates from District 26A — including the winner of the primary, Troy Heinert.
As it turned out, my story ended up being a big favor for a lot of these candidates. I started calling the listed contacts to get comments about the missing reports, and everyone I reached claimed to be surprised they were missing. Gordon Howie said he had filed reports for four other PACs he runs, but somehow missed his South Dakota Freedom PAC. Other people told similar stories — they thought they had filed, or had intended to shut down the committee.
None remembered getting the letters Secretary of State Jason Gant said he sent out in early June.
After I started making calls, six of the 14 missing committees contacted Gant’s office to file their report, or promise to file.
Gant said it’s too early to tell whether those PACs who file now, two months after the deadline but before he hauls them to an administrative hearing, will still face some or all of a fine up to $3,000.
After the jump, the full list of the missing committees. Everyone marked with an asterisk contacted Gant after I began making calls on this story:
After a contentious session last year, I pretty much expected someone from the conservative insurgent faction in South Dakota to challenge House Majority Leader David Lust’s leadership. (A challenge to House Speaker Val Rausch was made moot by his decision to run for the Senate, and then doubly so by his primary loss to Tim Begalka.)
Walking out of the South Dakota Republican Party convention on Saturday, I was handed evidence that there is, in fact, a movement afoot.
It was a photocopied flier indicting “Republican House Leadership in Pierre” for a variety of sins, calling it “failed leadership” and asking, “Isn’t it time to change some faces??”
Amusingly, the flier — originally posted by Ed Randazzo on the Gordon Howie-affiliated RightSideSD blog — paired photos of three top House Republican leaders with three prominent national Democrats.
Lust was next to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City and the heir apparent to the Speaker position, was with convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Assistant Majority Leader Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg, was next to retiring Rep. Barney Frank, R-Mass., an outspoken liberal and arguably the most prominent openly gay politician in the country.
Take a look:
When I chatted with Gosch about it, he was under the impression/assumption that dissident GOP lawmaker Stace Nelson was behind the flier. I emailed Nelson to if he had anything “to do with producing and distributing that” flier. He replied, “I did not.”
(Note: My recollection of this conversation, which I did not record, has been challenged in the comments. I still believe I understood things correctly, but I’m retracting the crossed-out statement out of fairness.)
Nelson did endorse the sentiment of the flier, however, referring to the “dishonest antics” of Rausch, Lust and Gosch.
(Aside: the DC comparisons are a mixed bag. Lust is being compared to one of the most powerful men in the country, albeit one conservatives despise. Gosch gets a convicted felon who wasn’t regarded as a terribly effective governor even before he was drummed out of office.)
So I’m sure all these leadership positions will be contested this fall when House Republicans convene. How likely is it that one or more of these leaders lose? Gosch wasn’t terribly worried. I’d probably consider all of the current leaders to be favorites to keep their spots, but not safe bets. A lot might depend on how the November elections shape the House GOP caucus.
In case you missed it, my story in this morning’s paper looked at the race for Public Utilities Commission. On neither side does there seem to be a fight brewing for the party nomination, which will be bestowed at the upcoming party conventions:
- Incumbent Republicans Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen say they’ve talked to hundreds of delegates and haven’t heard about anyone challenging them
- Gordon Howie, who supported a lot of legislative challengers in the June 5 primary, said the PUC races aren’t on his radar
- Democrats so far only have one declared candidate, Matt McGovern, who’s looking to challenge Fiegen
- Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf said the party will probably have a second nominee, but who it is remains to be seen
- One possibility, former House candidate Jeff Barth, said he’s open to the prospect but not terribly interested in it after his long and (at the end) intense and draining campaign ended up in a landslide defeat
- Some maneuvering by the Dems, who are having their actual convention close to a month before their official convention date, thus giving them time to make convention decisions even after the party gathering in Aberdeen is over
District 9 is notable for two things: internment camps for shellfish-like aliens, and one of the more interesting primary races for South Dakota Legislature this year.
Incumbent Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, is facing off a spirited challenge from Rep. Lora Hubbel, R-Sioux Falls, who decided to challenge Peters after being redistricted out of her old district.
The two candidates have thrown harsh words at each other, but most of the dirtiest work has been done by third-party groups, who can fill voters’ mailboxes with negative pamphlets without putting the name of the candidate they support on them (thus insulating those favored candidates from any backlash from voters upset at negative attacks).
(Note: this article has been updated to reflect new information, near the bottom.)
Let’s take a look at some of these attacks, and who’s making them.
Hubbel has slammed Peters for being “pro-abortion” and “anti-gun,” and anti-Peters postcards have taken a similar tack. Here’s five cards (some front-and-back of the same postcard) from the same group:
These are stamped, “Paid for by Conservatives United.”
Who is Conservatives United? They’ve got a page on Secretary of State Jason Gant’s new campaign finance system, though there’s not too much there.
Conservatives United is run by a Brian Wellhouse of Watertown. The political action committee hasn’t filed a pre-primary report (or it hasn’t been uploaded yet), so we can’t yet see who’s donated to Conservatives United or what they’ve spent their money on. Its mission statement is to “support conservatives in GOP primary elections.”
Another, slightly more transparent group has also sent out anti-Peters postcards:
Those postcards have a little more sophisticated design, but generally hit the same theme: Peters is an enemy on key conservative issues. This group, the Conservative Values PAC, focuses on health care rather than the abortion- and gun-focused cards Conservatives United sent out.
So who is Conservative Values PAC? It’s on the Secretary of State’s website, and it has a more notable name running it: former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie.
The stated mission of the PAC is “to support limited, responsible government and the principles of conservative fiscal & family values.”
The PAC lists a single $100 donation, below the threshold at which donors have to be disclosed, and a $100 donation to the Hubbel campaign. Presumably, the expenses for this postcard (and the money to raise it) happened after the reporting deadline for pre-primary campaign finance reports.
But Peters has an “ally” against this onslaught of postcards:
These postcards are paid for by a political action committee called “PAC’n Heat,” which evidences a sense of humor with its punny name.
So who is PAC’n Heat? To the Gant-machine!
The chair of the PAC is a certain Deborah Peters of Hartford, and lists its mission as “to elected responsible candidates.”
It also lists three other notable contributions: $421.41 from “Deb Peters for Senate repayment of cost of postcard,” $424.40 from “Steve Hickey for House repayment of cost of postcard,” and a $424.40 loan from “Bob Deelstra for House.”
Peters, obviously, is the incumbent senator in District 9 and the prime beneficiary of these attacks. Hickey and Deelstra are the incumbent House members from District 9.
Neither man is facing a primary challenge, so neither man has to file a pre-primary report with Gant’s office.
EDIT: Hickey writes to tell me that he and Deelstra didn’t have anything to do with the attack on Hubbel. The contributions from him and Deelstra reflect an earlier postcard the three incumbents sent out introducing them to voters, he said. He sent over an image of the mailer he said he and Deelstra helped pay for:
So while Hickey and Deelstra are definitely allied with and supporting Peters, this would suggest they weren’t involved in the attacks her PAC made on Hubbel.
I don’t know what the connection is between any of those people and Insure-Rite. Peters is a CPA, Hickey a pastor and Deelstra a “sales professional” for Northview Campers.
So that’s the postcard situation in District 9: Peters, under attack by third-party groups allied with her opponent Hubbel, forms her own group to punch back —
with the support from other, current members of the Legislature.
What do you think about the postcard wars in District 9? Is one side being nastier or less truthful than the other?