Hartford legislator sued over backpay for congressional campaign

Rep. Michael Saba speaks at a breakfast hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Best Western Plus Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls.

State Rep. Michael Saba is being sued over pay for a congressional campaign that didn’t come to fruition earlier this year.

Jaedon Kroger, a South Dakotan whose address is listed in Kansas City, filed suit against Saba in May for $12,000 for his work on Saba’s campaign. Saba is arguing that he doesn’t owe Kroger pay because they never reached an agreement on Kroger’s services and didn’t have a contract. 

Saba requested and was granted the transfer of the case from small claims court to the regular civil docket for a jury trial. A status hearing is set for Aug. 31.

Saba is a first-term state legislator who focuses on international trade and business issues at the Capitol and sits on the Appropriations Committee overseeing the state budget. He told the Argus Leader he considered running against U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, and was encouraged by others to do so, because he was concerned about Johnson’s stances on those issues. But he decided against it due to campaigning statewide during the COVID-19 pandemic and because he decided he still wanted to continue to serve in the state Legislature.

In the small claims filing, Kroger said he and Saba agreed in January that Kroger would work as an independent contractor consulting Saba on the upcoming congressional election for a salary of $4,875 per month from January to November, and lists two people he says were witnesses to this agreement. 

Kroger goes on to say he had multiple meetings with Saba in January, and in February began going to and from Pierre with Saba for the legislative session, during which he was paid a total of $500. 

Before the payment, there were discussions between Saba and Kroger about that money being a “down payment for late pay that would be covered via backpay when the congressional campaign launched,” according to the filing. 

Kroger writes in the filing that he sent Saba the contract while they were in Pierre and that Saba verbally confirmed he received that email. Kroger didn’t travel to Pierre after that exchange, he wrote, and continued to prepare campaign materials until March 14, when Saba said he was going to suspend his campaign and wanted to settle backpay for a smaller amount. 

Saba replied in July that he is not liable for that claim because “no agreement was reached between the parties regarding services the plaintiff (Kroger) claims to have provided, and no contract exists.” 

Saba didn’t file a statement of organization creating a congressional campaign committee with the Federal Elections Committee, although he has a U.S. Senate campaign committee in North Dakota from 1980. He filed a petition to run for re-election to the South Dakota House on March 25. He filed a statement of organization for his legislative campaign committee, Vote Saba, on May 14. The following day, he filed a pre-primary fundraising report with the state Secretary of State’s Office showing $2,000 in campaign contributions and no expenditures.

If a candidate ends a campaign for federal office, the campaign’s debt continues to exist and the candidate must raise funds to pay it off.

In a May 5 email to Saba, Kroger wrote: 

“It is true we didn’t raise much money, however, my records show that you expected around $1,300 to come in from our fundraising, and you did not want to reach out to any donors who were not in your personal social circle.” 

Kroger goes on to suggest different organizations or “issue-oriented” PACs that were donating money, saying,  “I assure you there is money to be collected this cycle: it would be quite odd if your campaign was not able to raise funds while other campaigns across the nation are setting fundraising records.”

Later in the email, which was included in the case filing, Kroger wrote: 

“Look, I will be simple. If you want me to work for your campaign this cycle, I think we can come to some form of agreement. If you do not wish me to work on your campaign this cycle and do not wish to pay off any of the debts taken on by the Vote Saba Committee over the last few months, that is also a choice you can make.”

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