S.D. officials agree anti-abortion donor can remain anonymous

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

PIERRE, S.D. — The state will not appeal a circuit judge's decision keeping secret the name of an anonymous donor who gave $750,000 to a failed 2006 effort to outlaw most abortions in South Dakota.


Attorney General Marty Jackley, Secretary of State Chris Nelson and state Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, announced on Nov. 25 that they had reached an agreement in which the state wouldn't file further appeals and Hunt wouldn't seek legal fees from the state. Hunt set up the corporation that passed the donation on to Vote Yes For Life, the main campaign group promoting the ballot measure to ban most abortions.


Hunt has said the person who donated the money is a South Dakota resident who wants to remain anonymous out of fear of violent retaliation. He said on Nov. 25 that the donor still wanted to remain anonymous.


Nelson, who enforces state election laws, had sought a court ruling to require disclosure of the donor's identity. He argued Hunt's corporation should have to file a campaign-finance report because it was really a ballot-question committee.


Nelson said on Nov. 25 that was disappointed with the outcome of the case, but at least state laws had been changed to prevent such anonymous donations in the future.


“It's been a long road,” he said. “But the upside is our statutes have in fact been changed.”


Jackley said the agreement to end the case made sense because the law had been changed and the state might have had to pay Hunt's legal costs if the dispute had continued.


“It made sense for the taxpayers to put this behind us,” the attorney general said.


South Dakota voters rejected the 2006 abortion measure 56% to 44%. Two years later, state voters rejected a similar proposal, also aimed at prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.


Circuit Judge Kathleen Caldwell of Sioux Falls originally ruled in favor of Hunt and the Promising Future Inc. corporation, finding their actions did not meet the definition of a ballot-question committee. The state Supreme Court overturned Caldwell's ruling and sent the case back for a decision on whether Hunt and the unnamed donor fit the definition of a ballot-question committee.


Caldwell dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month, ruling that Nelson could not require disclosure of the donor's name under the 2006 law because its definition of a ballot-question committee was unconstitutional.

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