SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Prosecutors charged a Sioux Falls Republican political activist Tuesday with orchestrating a robo-call campaign during election season that criticized GOP legislative leaders but that lacked the necessary identifying disclaimers, the state attorney general said.
Daniel Willard, 31, is charged with four counts of violating the state's election law governing the production of campaign ads and communications in the run-up to an election. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a $2,000 fine. He's scheduled to make an initial court appearance Dec. 20 in Madison.
Attorney General Marty Jackley's office alleges that Willard made calls identifying Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, and Reps. David Lust and Brian Gosch, both Rapid City Republicans, within 60 days of the election without including disclaimers identifying the person or organization paying for the communications.
Willard referred questions to attorney R. Shawn Tornow, who said Willard is comfortable that he's not guilty of the charges and is looking forward to vigorously defending himself.
"They have significant problems or holes in their case," Tornow said. "When everything is borne out, we're comfortable that Mr. Willard will be exonerated."
Willard is a precinct committeeman for the Minnehaha County Republican Party who served as a delegate for presidential candidate Ron Paul to the state GOP's convention.
Calls made to Olson's cellphone formed the basis of the allegations.
According to an affidavit filed by Bryan Gortmaker, director of the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation, Olson received calls to his cell phone on Sept. 12 and Sept. 17.
"Did you know that State Sen. Russell Olson said you were a terrorist and that you do not have the right to free speech when asked why he voted for SB188," the caller said in the Sept. 17 call. "SB188 is a law gutting South Dakota National Guard members' educational benefits during a time when these brave men and women were fighting combat in Afghanistan."
The Sept. 12 call criticized Lust and Gosch for their vote on the same bill, the affidavit said.
The calls stated that they were paid for and authorized by Veterans Against Unethical Politicians.
Gortmaker said in the affidavit that investigators traced the phone number to a prepaid cellphone bought at a Sioux Falls Walmart with Willard's credit card.
On Sept. 22, Jackley received an anonymous email saying that a single veteran paid for their editorial opinions to be expressed by an automated communication system at a cost of just over $292.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Secretary of State Jason Gant asked Jackley in September to investigate automated phone calls criticizing Republican legislative leaders for supposedly not adhering to the party's principles.
Daugaard and Gant, both Republicans, said they wanted to know who was behind the calls and whether they violated state campaign disclosure laws. The anonymous campaign also included letters, postcards and emails. At the time, Daugaard called those behind the calls "cowards."
Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ddlammers