South Dakota political activist found guilty

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August 30, 2013

South Dakota

By Jennifer Springer

Madison, South Dakota: A disabled veteran and conservative activist violated state election laws when he made a series of robocalls lambasting GOP leaders before the 2012 general election.[1]

A Lake County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding 32-year-old Daniel Willard guilty on all four misdemeanor counts of failing to identify the name and address of the maker of a communication within 60 days of an election.[1][2][3]

Willard agreed to be sentenced immediately, and Judge Vince Foley ordered him to pay $1,000 in fines and spend four years on probation.[2][1] If he violates the terms, which include refraining from anonymous political statements, he could serve up to 120 days in jail.[2][1]

“I think actual jail time is not necessary,” Judge Foley said.[1]

Assistant Attorney General Brent Kempema had asked for some jail time as a deterrent to others who might skirt election law. He noted Willard will have to pay the costs of prosecuting the case in addition to the fines.[1][2]

Willard’s lawyer, Shawn Tornow, argued over the four-day trial that his client was targeted for prosecution for political reasons, that a co-conspirator in the robocalls was an unreliable witness and that no law had been broken because Willard’s political organization was not clearly required by law to register with the secretary of state before engaging in political communication.[1][2][3]

The calls were attributed to the group “Veterans Against Unethical Politicians,” which was not registered with the state or federal government.

Secretary of State Jason Gant was the last to testify at the trial, saying he’d questioned the legality of the communication from the start.[1]

Tornow asked Gant if there were any organizations that operate in South Dakota that are not required to register directly with the Secretary of State. Gant said only organizations registered with the federal government are exempt, but he noted that the veterans group behind the robocalls was not.[1][2]

Willard did not testify in his own defense. He also declined to address the judge before sentencing and did not speak to reporters afterward.[1] He faces a pending civil lawsuit over the calls, which was brought by state senator Dan Lederman.[1]

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