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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem Is Using a Billionaire’s “Private Donation” To Send Troops To Texas

In a screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem addresses the virtual convention

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is planning to send state National Guard troops to Texas and she’s paying for it with a “private donation” from a billionaire GOP megadonor.

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Noem says she is sending troops in response to a request for assistance from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is very busy not fixing his state’s electrical grid. “The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide,” Noem said in a statement. “My message to Texas is this: Help is on the way.”

In case you were wondering, no it is not normal for billionaires to be able to fund the deployment of troops since that basically turns the National Guard into a private mercenary force hired to do their bidding. It’s not normal and it’s also not clear if it’s totally legal.

One legal expert—J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal appellate court judge—told HuffPost: “It is exceedingly odd that the deployment of the National Guard would be paid for by a ‘private donation.’ … In many contexts, absent statutory authorization of such, this would be an illegal supplementation of a federally budgeted activity.”

The Washington Post writes that “Privately funding a military mission is an affront to civilian oversight of the armed forces, said military and oversight experts, describing the move—a Republican governor sending troops to a Republican-led state, paid for by a Republican donor—as likely unprecedented and unethical.”

As one of those experts put it, “You certainly don’t want our national security priorities up to the highest bidder.” And yet here we are.

The billionaire in question is Willis Johnson, an auto salvage auction magnate who has funded a number of Republican campaigns, including Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign and nearly $180,000 to the Republican National Committee in the last two years.

But according to the Daily Beast, “charities like Willis and Reba Johnson’s Fund—named for the businessman’s wife—aren’t supposed to participate in politics, at least not directly, according to Internal Revenue Service rules.”

The fund “has largely financed religious organizations in the past,” writes the outlet. “However, it has also donated to at least one National Rifle Association-sponsored event and to the Alpha Pregnancy Center, which counsels women against receiving abortions.”

Johnson—who, by the way, doesn’t live in South Dakota or Texas, but in Tennessee, with another home in California, insisted that his donation to Noem and her National Guard deployment “is a purely patriotic and public-spirited endeavor.”

From the Daily Beast:

“It’s helping America is what it is,” he said, before quickly slipping back into politics. “I think that people can come to America, I love America, but it’s gotta be under the law, not under some president who can just say ‘we’re opening the borders up.’”

President Biden has said nothing of the sort. If you’ll recall, he and his administration have been doing the opposite, telling potential immigrants and asylum-seekers, “Do not come,” to the extreme disappointment of many progressives.

But the idea of a Democrat-fueled border crisis is a major linchpin of the Republican Party’s entire platform and Noem is reportedly eyeing a 2024 presidential run (with Johnson having expressed interest in funding her campaign) so I guess we can’t expect anyone involved to be anything less than completely predictable.

(image: Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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