Americans for Prosperity - Is this getting Republicans back to their roots? Regardless, they're starting with the Tobacco Tax

About a week ago, Americans For Prosperity's South Dakota's State Director, Duane Sand, was kind enough to stop by my house in Brookings on his way home to Bismarck, North Dakota, and filled me in on their issues and what plans they have in South Dakota.

I've been extremely remiss in getting to this. Mainly because there was a small story that broke immediately thereafter, and it's kind of sucked the momentum away from anything else political in South Dakota.

If you're not familiar with AFP, go check out their website at, or you can click here for a direct link to the South Dakota chapter of the organization. They're in about 22 states and the organization is continuing to grow as people hear about their focus:
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels. The grassroots members of AFP advocate for public policies that champion the principles of entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint.

AFP Foundation is committed to educating citizens about economic policy and a return of the federal government to its Constitutional limits. AFP Foundation’s educational programs and analyses help policymakers, the media and individual citizens understand why policies that promote the American enterprise system are the best method to ensuring prosperity for all Americans. To that end, AFP and AFP Foundation supports:

  • A Taxpayer's Bill of Rights to protect the economic interests of citizens by making it harder to raise taxes and waste scarce tax dollars on frivolous programs.
  • Cutting taxes and government spending in order to halt the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens by fighting proposed tax increases and pointing out evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Tax and Expenditure Limitations to promote fiscal responsibility.
  • Removing unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship and opportunity by sparking citizen involvement in the regulatory process early on in order to reduce red tape.
  • Restoring fairness to our judicial system by stemming the tide toward "over-criminalization" of economic activity spurred by over-active attorneys general.
  • Working with well-known businessman and free-market advocate Herman Cain to expand all of these projects to even more states across the country in our recently-launched "State Prosperity Expansion Project."
I asked Duane, and one thing he specifically cited is that you won't see his organization getting involved in issues with a focus on morality, such as abortion, etc. They strictly focus on taxation and economic issues. And, you won't see them take on candidate endorsements. Because of their tax status, they're strictly forbidden and will only serve in an educational role.

However, as this organization gears up in South Dakota , what they are taking a position on are several of the ballot measures that we'll be voting on in a couple of weeks. Where do they stand on the issues?

AFP is saying NO on Amendment D
National free-market grassroots group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) today announced plans to fight a proposed change in property tax code in South Dakota that will discourage economic growth and affect education funding. AFP is joining the No on D Coalition which includes the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce to oppose the harmful effects Amendment D will have across the state. AFP will mobilize a grassroots network around the state to defeat Amendment D.

"Amendment D is essentially a tax shift to owners of newly purchased property" Sand said. "Communities across the state need pro growth policies to help the local economies thrive. Amendment D threatens to endanger economic prosperity across the state. It puts small businesses at a competitive disadvantage by forcing new businesses owners to pay an increasing portion of the tax burden on property. First time home buyers and families looking to downsize their home, will also be hit particularly hard."
AFP is saying NO on Amendment E:
Free-market grassroots group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) today announced plans to oppose Amendment E (aka Judicial Accountability Initiative Law, J.A.I.L. Amendment) which if approved will open the judiciary to frivolous lawsuits and result in waste of taxpayer dollars. AFP will mobilize a grassroots network around the state to defeat Amendment E.

"Amendment E would open up any public servant protected by judicial immunity to numerous lawsuits." State Director Duane Sand said. "The court system in South Dakota would effectively be ground to a halt with a plethora of lawsuits. Amendment E would open the possibility for incarcerated criminals to spend their free time suing judges and/or parole boards."
And in the measure which first thrust them into the spotlight in South Dakota, AFP is the primary organization in South Dakota opposing Initiated Measure 2, the tobacco tax.

Initiated Measure #2 is a misguided attempt to increase taxes on South Dakotans during a growing state economy, ultimately giving government more surplus taxpayer money than it already has. Americans for Prosperity will lead the charge to defeat any tax increase in South Dakota this year.

“Some people want to fund a $5 Million state program by increasing taxes by $40 Million. We think this is clearly sending the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the people that government is supposed to be serving – its citizens,” said Duane Sand, Americans for Prosperity’s South Dakota State Director.


“If approved, Initiative #2 will encourage residents to leave the state to buy tobacco. Small businesses will be hurt most if South Dakotans cross state lines to buy the same products. When local economies suffer, job creation also suffers,” said Sand.

It was on this measure that we spent quite a time discussing the effort behind it, it's ramification, and general impact on South Dakotans.

It's not as if South Dakotans have never heard of crossing state lines or otherwise untaxed cigarettes. The state revenue department sent out a reminder of it just this last year. And there's also a case pending in the US Supreme court where petition for certiorari has been filed and is pending on a case where one state is attempting to prevent the sales of untaxed cigarettes by tribes which could be exacerbated by an increase in state taxes.

I suspect we'll be hearing more about this from the "No" campaign in the next couple of weeks.

Ont thing that I note was recently mentioned about AFP - they threw down the gauntlet this past week via a media conference that "if the people vote down this excessive tax increase (largest in 50 years) then we (AFP) pledge to assist in finding full funding for their cessation/prevention program in the next legislative cycle. Currently Prevention/Cessation gets state/federal monies of about $3M total now, and they want $5M."

As far as the No on 2 campaign itself, AFP is headlining this measure at a time when other organizations you might expect would be involved such as SD Retailers, casino operators, bar owners, big tobacco, and other outlets for cigarettes are surprisingly quiet. However, I expect them to step up the fight as we wind down to election day.

On the opposite side of the fight, the Yes on 2 coalition (disclosure: yes they are an advertiser) is formed from several individuals and groups such as the South Dakota State Medical Association, South Dakota Nurses Association, South Dakota Dental Association, and South Dakota chapters of the American Cancer Society, the American Dental Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association.

Stay tuned!


Anonymous said…
Well, finally! Today I saw about the first MSM story I can think of where a reporter actually goes beyond the bland comments of E supporters and finds the craziness beneath.

Kate Turnbow has a story in today's Capitol Journal going in to great detail WITH QUOTES of the frienship between Gene Chapman, the "American Anti-Communist" candidate and E's Stegmeier.

The incredibly lame story the Argus did on E last week made it look like a simple governmental reform measure backed by concerned citizens.

When are these Chicken-"lower colons" (tip of the hat to Mr. Epp)in the MSM going to report some of the insanity the War College has been reporting on for months? How can they not consider the motivations and background of the E gang an essential part of the story?
Anonymous said…
I find it funny that a tax payer advocacy group is opposed to the tobacco tax. Every taxpayer in SD is paying on average $580 per year in taxes to cover government related tobacco caused health care expenditures. Just because it's a tax doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing for taxpayers. SD spends $252 million (a quarter of a billion dollars) every year on tobacco related health expenditures. I think this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

On a side note, try Googling Americans for Prosperity and Philip Morris, you get 254,000 results. Yeah, they're really unbiased.
Anonymous said…
AFP are a bunch of outa state morons, their comments about D are so far of base it is ridiculous.
Anonymous said…
I see the tobacco tax and cell-phone tax as a user fee. You use it, you pay. Simple and fair.
Anonymous said…
Tell me then what tobacco usage has to do with funding education and property tax relief? $5 million for tobocco preventation and the other $35 M for medicaid, education and property tax relief.

Yeah, I guess tobacco users are the only ones that have children in our schools and own property. That makes sense to me now...
Anonymous said…
Tobacco users cost the state millions in health care costs, $58 million in Medicaid alone last year. Why am I as a non-smoker paying taxes for someone else's poor choice? If you're going to smoke you should have to pay for your use.
Anonymous said…
I am glad there is a group out there to talk about fiscal issues in South Dakota. There aren't any other groups that are actively looking out for the taxpayers.

Irrespective of your thoughts on the tobacco tax issue which I've seen Americans For Prosperity opposes, I think they are doing a good thing by organizing grassroot support for tax issues in state.
Anonymous said…
If Medicaid is the crisis, hen why not put all this money to that fund? And why has the state never asked for an increase in funding for tobacco cessation or prevention?
Anonymous said…
anon 502 pm;

I cant believe you said this...

"There aren't any other groups that are actively looking out for the taxpayers."

exactly what issue do you feel is lacking representation ?

Genuine South Dakotans have been working hard on amendment D for like 3 years. AFP walks into this state (from outa state) like 3 weeks ago and you think they deserve praise ?

newsflash, they havent done anything for you yet. Except show how misinformed they are about amendment D.
Anonymous said…
The name for this out of state group should be, "Americans for Poverty" They are not looking out for South Dakota taxpayers. Slick bunch, big tobacco money behind them. Don't be fooled with what they have to say.
Anonymous said…
Anon 9:25

Just because someone opposes a tobacco tax increase doesn't mean they are automatically in bed with big tobacco. Most South Dakotans are more fair minded thatn to jump to conclusions like that.

If all this supposed big tobacco money is behind them how come we haven't heard radio and tv commercials about it?

I've volunteered for Americans For Prosperity and the guy that is in the office grew up in South Dakota.

Stop trying to distort the facts.
Anonymous said…
The co-founder of AFP is now a VP for RJ Reynolds. Not to mention being heavily funded by the tobacco industry. I would call that being in bed with the tobacco industry.
Anonymous said…
AFP is a Bogus organization.

When I first saw AFP's booth at the South Dakota state fair and learned that they were a "grassroots taxpayer advocacy group" I thought "great."

Then I learned that they were vigorously opposed to Amendment D. A “taxpayer advocacy group” opposed to tax reform? This didn't make any sense so I decided to do some research on them.

What I found: This organization is based in Washington, D.C. on M Street (where the lobbyists hang), with a board of 5 and 11-20 Full-Time Employees and no volunteers or membership. It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit, public charity. As of 2005 (the most recent reporting year available) they had “chapters” in 6 states. Now (in ’06) they claim to be in 22. This sort of growth does not come from $35 donations from individual taxpaying citizens. Do the Google search suggested in the earlier post in this thread. It’s informative.

I checked with Senator Napoli and the Amendment D Organization and found that AFP had never even contacted them for information on Amendment D. I also learned that some of the information put out jointly by AFP and the South Dakota Chamber was fraudulent. Sen. Napoli said he called an officer of the South Dakota chapter of AFP, a Mr. Dewey, to get it corrected.

I have worked with several taxpayer groups over many years: Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens Against Government Waste (which emerged out of the Grace Commission, created by President Reagan, to investigate opportunities to cut waste, fraud and abuse in the Federal budget. It was chaired for several years by Ambassador Alan Keyes), National Taxpayers Union as well as the CATO Institute and the Heritage Foundation. I had never heard of AFP before.

Conclusion: AFP is a non-profit front group designed to drink up Federal grant dollars and promote the interests of big business. It’s probably here using its resources to oppose Amendment D at the request of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce. This “group” should have NO credibility with citizens of South Dakota and we would do well to ask them to leave South Dakota and go to some other state to set up shop. A citizen taxpayer group against property tax relief….AFP must stand for “America’s Funniest People.”

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