SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Elected officials in South Dakota speaking against passage of the pro-marijuana Initiated Measure 27 may have broken the law.
That’s according to New Approach South Dakota (NASD), a marijuana advocacy organization that is sending public records requests to government offices across the state asking for clarification surrounding public statements made by those individuals.
Under SDCL 12-27-20, any government official or employee of the state is permitted to speak their opinion of a candidate or ballot measure in their personal capacity. The same law states that no government agency or official can influence the election of any candidate or ballot measure in their official capacity.
In addition, under the South Dakota Constitution, they are not allowed to use taxpayer resources to promote a political agenda.
Recent and ongoing messaging by city mayors, county sheriffs and others has prompted the inquiry. NASD Executive Director Melissa Mentele told Dakota News Now, “Using taxpayer resources to ensure that these issues are defeated – issues that were put on the ballot by voters – is really disturbing.”
NASD said they are trying to determine if and when officials used tax supported resources, in official capacities, to speak against IM 27 and other measures. Any records provided will be given to South Dakota Attorney General Mark Vargo for possible investigation.
Dakota News Now reached out to a number of the officials who were sent public information requests. Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken responded, saying his First Amendment right allows him to voice his concerns with IM 27.
In an email, TenHaken wrote, “Qualifying South Dakota residents have access to medical marijuana, we do not need recreational marijuana. Fortunately as an elected leader I don’t have to forfeit my First Amendment rights to say IM27 is terrible public policy and people should vote no.”
A list of offices, officials, groups and individuals receiving public records request include:
Pennington County Sheriff’s Department
Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Department
Box Elder Police Department
Rapid City Mayor Steven Allender
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken
Protecting South Dakota Kids
South Dakota Police Chiefs Association
South Dakota Catholic Association
Next Generation Leadership PAC Administrators
State Rep. Fred Deutsch
Senator John Thune
Senator Thune’s staff
Governor Kristi Noem
Governor Noem’s staff
Ian Fury Governor’s Office
State Rep. Scott Odenbach
State Rep. Doug Barthel
State Rep. Carl Perry
State Sen. Al Novstrup
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden and staff
State Sen. Helene Duhamel
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom
Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Mueller
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead
Meade County Sheriff-Elect Pat West
Rapid City Assistant Police Chief Scott Sitz