PIERRE, S.D. — A Tennessee billionaire's charity is paying $1 million to South Dakota in return for Gov. Kristi Noem sending a few dozen National guardsmen and women to the U.S.'s southern border, says an email obtained by Forum News Service.
While some state officials stress the monetary exchange-for-deployment is not illegal, more legislators are emerging to raise questions about an in-kind use of the governor's executive powers over volunteer military personnel.
"The Governor is responding to an emergency under the Emergency Management Assistance Company," reads an email from an unnamed member of the governor's staff to certain legislators on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 30. "This is the authority the Governor is using to accept the funds."
A governor has large discretion on how and when to send the National Guard that is laid out in state statute.
In the last year, for example, Noem dispatched the National Guard to confront protesters outside Mount Rushmore National Memorial on July 3, prior to a speech by then-President Trump.
But it's unclear if the timing of the gift to the state — made by the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation of Franklin, Tenn., — came before or after Noem made a determination to deploy troops to the southern border.
A spokesman for Noem did not respond to a request on the sequence of events for this article. The email reporting the $1 million figure was first reported by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Furthermore, it is not yet known why the governor sent troops from the National Guard, rather than state law enforcement agents. Gov. Kim Reynolds in neighboring Iowa, for example, responded last week to a June 10 request by the governors of Arizona and Texas to send personnel by dispatching two dozen state highway patrol officers from Iowa to the southern border.
Whereas Reynolds specified the illicit drug trade — with supply from below the international border — as a reason for officers over 1,000 miles away to be involved in a border action, Noem's press release announcing the guard's deployment earlier this week blamed the crossing of "illegal aliens" into the U.S.
On Wednesday, Rep. Tony Randolph, R-Rapid City, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was still finding out information on the deployment.
Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, called for Noem to, if not cancel the mission, at least to rescind the donation.
"Our National Guardsmen and women are not professional soldiers for hire," added Nesiba.
Earlier this year, Aylward brought a bill to require an official declaration of war by Congress before a governor could send Guardsmen and Guardswomen overseas.