Heavy spending on Initiated Measure 25 campaigns

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(KSFY) - With just a few weeks until the election it’s difficult to escape the onslaught of political ads on commercials, billboards, Facebook ads, mailers and more.

While many of those ads are for candidates, a proposed increase in taxes on tobacco is generating a big campaign push across the state.

A lot of the ads are coming from the opposition group South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes. They say Initiated Measure 25 is a $35 million dollar tax hike.

“Obviously as we get closer to November, we will be getting more of our messaging out,” SDAHT Chair Steve Westra said.

It’s a full-scale media campaign that requires a lot of cash.

“They're probably spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover all of the TV stations…you could send a mailer out and spend 30 to 50 thousand dollars just for this area, now you've got to do the entire state, that adds up fast,” Greg Jamison said.

Jamison has run several of his own Sioux Falls campaigns, but says this kind of statewide effort would be even more expensive.

“Money is coming together probably from all over the country in an attempt to fund that campaign and make is successful. Often times you'll see, whoever spends the most is the one who wins,” he said.

“It [the money] is coming from all sorts of people,” Westra said.

Westra said SDAHT is a broad based coalition of many organizations and businesses, including tobacco companies.

“They're one piece of it, absolutely,” Westra said.

“When you have two companies that sell $35 million worth of cigarettes in South Dakota, they don’t need to recruit a lot of people, they'll say, you know what let's spend four or five million dollars trying to protect our ability to sell cigarettes,” IM 25 supporter Mark Mickelson said.

Supporters of IM 25 include Avera, Sanford and other healthcare organizations around the state. As well as prospective employers with a vested interest in workforce development spurred by an investment in the state’s technical schools. They say IM 25 is up against a lot of out of state money this campaign season.

“The two tobacco companies are out of North Carolina I think. They're pros at trying to defeat these,” Mickelson said. “We’ve got a very good campaign, we're excited about it and we hope to inform the public on our point of view as well.”

Both sides will be required to disclose how much they've spent so far and where that money came from on the pre-general report due October 22nd. But a large portion of campaign funds are typically spent in the final days leading up to the election.

In 2016, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said tobacco companies spent nearly $100 million trying to defeat similar tobacco tax increases in three other states.