The Rapid City-based organization known as South Dakota Gun Owners, which is not the National Rifle Association, has put a total of $5,500 into eight primary contests for Republican nominations to seats in the South Dakota Legislature.
The group’s political action committee report filed May 27 shows $1,000 contributions to Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City; Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs; and House candidate Travis Lasseter, R-New Underwood.
The PAC also gave $500 apiece to Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen; House candidate Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen; former Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, who is a state Senate candidate; House candidate Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City; and Senate candidate Tina Mulally, R-Rapid City.
The PAC run by Ray Lautenschlager of Rapid City has also spent nearly $3,200 for printing and postage. The report doesn’t identify whose legislative districts’ residents have been receiving the mailing.
Lautenschlager doesn’t identify the source of $10,000 his organization gave his PAC. He reports $8,000 from a Windsor, Colorado-based group, National Association for Gun Rights. He also reports that $6,000 is owed to a business known as Front Range Consulting but no other information is shown for that business.
In a nutshell Lautenschlager-backed candidates are running for Republican nominations against Republican incumbents in most cases backed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Many of the SDGO-supported candidates this spring formed the nucleus of Nelson’s primary campaign in 2014 for the Republican nomination to U.S. Senate, which was won by former Gov. Mike Rounds.
Prior to the 2014 general election, SDGO gave $3,392 to Prairie Country PAC. The Brown County Republican central committee also gave $3,738.
Despite the past support from the Brown County committee, this spring Prairie Country is taking sides. Prairie Country mailed a piece in to Nelson’s legislative district showing Nelson as a U.S. Marine and showing his Republican primary opponent, Caleb Finck of Tripp, as a cross-dressed college student as part of a Hobo Days parody at South Dakota State University.
On its Facebook site Prairie Country is openly supporting Dennert, Kaiser, Nelson, Russell, Lasseter, Senate Republican primary challenger Doug Post of Volga, Howard, Republican Rep. Sam Marty of Prairie City, Republican Senate primary candidate Janette McIntyre of Rapid City, House Republican primary candidate Richard Kriebel of Rapid City and Jensen, while also attacking Finck and Republican Rep. Jaquelyn Sly of Rapid City, who’s challenging Jensen.
The people behind Prairie Country PAC are its chairman, Richard Hilgemann of Aberdeen; and treasurer Ken Santema of Aberdeen, a libertarian blogger who’s been analyzing all of the legislative primaries on his website. This spring Santema gave Prairie Country $1,000 and Dennert donated $180. Prairie Country reported in its pre-primary campaign finance report last week that it didn’t donate to any candidate but spent $1,619 on advertising.
The anti-Finck / pro-Nelson mailing sent into their legislative district no longer appears on the Prairie Country site on Facebook. Posts attacking Finck and Sly, a co-chair of the Blue Ribbon task force that called for higher teacher salaries across South Dakota, remain on the Facebook site.
Prairie Country PAC has become an unusual intersection of Brown County Republican and South Dakota Gun Owners money from 2014 and libertarian money in 2016 (small l). The PAC’s current purpose appears to be to help Nelson’s and Russell’s wing of candidates under the Republican banner.
They are challenging established Republican incumbents who supported the governor on the increased sales tax that takes effect Wednesday, June 1, for the benefit of better salaries for K-12 teachers, property taxpayer relief and pay raises for tech-institute faculty.
The primary elections are Tuesday, June 7. The results in the Republican primaries promise to be a look at what Republican voters care about most — and whether they care enough to vote in a primary.