RAPID CITY | Campaign finance reports show Rick Weiland, a Democrat who’s running an anti-big-money campaign, has the only net gain from the outside-spending crossfire in South Dakota’s four-candidate U.S. Senate race.
The term net gain refers to the fact that Weiland has benefited from spending for his candidacy more than he has been targeted by spending against him.
Thursday marked the beginning of the period when outside groups must report their spending within 24 hours of airing or publishing an advertisement, and the reports were flying in. The Federal Election Commission’s summary of outside spending in South Dakota changed multiple times Thursday, growing from 21 spending reports in the morning to 26 by late afternoon and approaching $2 million in total.
The reports do not include spending by the candidates' campaigns.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, outside groups had reported spending $462,529.13 so far this election cycle in support of Weiland and $152,285.77 against him, a net result of $310,243.36 in his favor.
Weiland senior adviser Steve Jarding acknowledged it’s “weird” to be the biggest beneficiary of the kind of big money Weiland says he opposes. But Jarding said there’s nothing the campaign can do about it, and the outside ads in support of a candidate sometimes can backfire.
“They’re not necessarily always ads we would have put up,” Jarding said. “Sometimes we would message differently than what they’re doing.”
An ad by an outside group is officially known as an independent expenditure, which the Federal Election Commission defines as “spending by individual people, groups, political committees, corporations or unions expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates.” The candidates and the groups are prohibited from coordinating the spending.
Larry Pressler, an independent candidate in the four-way race, said Weiland’s rhetoric against big money is wearing thin.
“How could he possibly say that with a straight face?” Pressler asked.
Pressler has suffered the most from outside spending, with nothing spent on his behalf and $358,327.19 spent against him. Another independent candidate, Gordon Howie, has had nothing spent for or against him.
Republican Mike Rounds has benefited from $428,000 spent to support him, but another $563,640.44 has been spent against him, resulting in a net of $135,640.44 in opposition.
Rob Skjonsberg, manager of the Rounds campaign, said Weiland has lost credibility on the issue of money in politics.
“Obviously, Weiland is a hypocrite,” Skjonsberg said in an emailed statement. “His rhetoric doesn’t match his actions — South Dakotans can see this.”
Though Weiland has the biggest net financial support from outside groups, Rounds has benefited from the biggest single expenditure. The American Chemistry Council Inc. spent $428,000 on television and Internet advertising to support Rounds.
Jarding, of the Weiland campaign, said American Chemistry Council advertising reflects the harm done by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows independent political expenditures in unlimited amounts.
“It’s one thing if a group is affiliated with a party and wants the party’s members to get elected, or it’s an entity or good-government group that’s trying to change the system,” Jarding said. “But when an industry group spends almost a half-million dollars, are they going to want Rounds to vote against their interests? I doubt that very much.”
The American Chemistry Council is a trade association representing companies engaged in the business of chemistry. Other outside spending in the South Dakota Senate race has come from:
• Every Voice Action, a group seeking campaign-finance reforms including public financing of campaigns, spent $206,041.41 against Pressler and $403,512.74 against Rounds.
• Mayday PAC, a so-called Super PAC (political action committee) that wants to end Super PACs, spent $462,529.13 in support of Weiland.
• Progressive Kick, which works to “give conservatives the boot,” spent $50,750 against Rounds.
• The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $109,377.70 against Rounds.
• The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent $152,285.78 against Pressler and $152,285.77 against Weiland.
Total spending by outside groups in the South Dakota Senate race as of Thursday afternoon was $1.965 million. Various groups have said they plan to spend more in the final two weeks before the Nov. 4 election.
Because of tight poll numbers, Rounds, Pressler and Weiland are all viewed by outside groups as having a chance to win.