Gov. Kristi Noem joined a growing list of Republican governors promising to send law enforcement officers to Texas.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Tuesday she will use a donation from a Republican donor to fund a deployment of up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.
Noem joined a growing list of Republican governors promising to send law enforcement officers to Texas as the GOP ramps up a political fight with President Joe Biden over border security. The issue has drawn a host of prominent GOP figures: Former President Donald Trump was expected to travel to the border this week and Republican governors from Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska and Iowa have all committed to sending law enforcement officers for border security.
Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said the governor decided to fund the deployment with a private donation “to help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers,” but declined to provide estimates on the cost of the deployment, citing “security reasons.”
Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation made the donation directly to the state, Fury said. Willis Johnson, a Tennessee-based billionaire, is the founder of an online used-car auction called Copart. He regularly makes large contributions to Republicans, including $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee last year.
Johnson said he approached Noem about making a donation after hearing about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border barrier push. He figured Texas “has plenty of money” so he decided to help Noem, who governs a state with a significantly smaller budget. He also said he had no plans to donate to other states to send law enforcement officers to the border.
Johnson added that he would have preferred to stay anonymous but that Noem’s office told him they had to at least disclose his name. He declined to say how much he was giving.
“America gave a lot of money to get that border wall done,” Johnson said. “It takes private individuals now.”
Noem, a potential presidential contender, drew a distinction between her decision to send the National Guard and other governors who are sending state police officers.
But Democratic state Sen. Reynold Nesiba said the fact Noem is using a donor to pay for the deployment shows it is not a “real priority” for the state, but instead gives her “political cover.” He said he was looking into whether using a private donation to fund the deployment is legal.
“This could set a dangerous precedent to allow anonymous political donors to call the governor and dispatch the Guard whenever they want,” he said.
The federal government usually pays for National Guard deployments to other states. When troops respond to an in-state emergency, they are paid from state government funds, according to Duke Doering, a historian with the South Dakota National Guard Museum. He said he had never heard of a private donor funding a deployment.
“This kind of floors me, when you’re talking about a private donor sending the Guard, that doesn’t even make sense to me,” Doering said.
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