The amount of a private donation toward a South Dakota National Guard mission on the Mexican border is $1 million.
State Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said Wednesday on SDPB’s In the Moment that he learned the amount from a fiscal staffer for the Legislative Research Council.
Later Wednesday, Nesiba showed SDPB the text of an email from the staffer. Ian Fury, a spokesman for Gov. Kristi Noem, then confirmed to SDPB that $1 million is the amount of the donation. Fury cited "security reasons" in declining to say whether the total cost of the deployment is more or less than the $1 million donation.
Noem announced Tuesday that she’s sending troops into Texas to help secure the border. Her administration said Tuesday that the donor is the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation, which is named for Tennessee billionaires who are supporters of conservative political causes. But the Noem administration declined on Tuesday to reveal the amount of the donation.
Wednesday, Fury said Willis Johnson had initiated the donation by reaching out to the Noem administration, even though Johnson has not donated to Noem's political campaigns. Fury said there is no contract between the Johnsons' foundation and the state regarding the donation.
Nesiba said accepting funds from a private source leaves room for ulterior political motives.
“What’s problematic is, did he make any promises to her?” Nesiba said of Willis Johnson. “Did he promise to donate to her federal PAC? Did he make any contributions to her gubernatorial campaign?”
Noem plans to send up to 50 National Guard troops to the border for 30 to 60 days. The South Dakota Democratic Party has criticized the action, saying in a tweet, “Noem has turned our military into mercenaries.”
Nesiba underscored that point Wednesday.
“Our Guard can never be used as, you know, for political purposes, and that’s what it looks like,” Nesiba said. “Whether that’s what happened or not, it appears to be politically partisan and we need to keep our military above that.”
--SDPB's Arielle Zionts contributed to this report.
This story comes from a recent interview on SDPB's weekday radio program, "In the Moment." Listen to the full interview below.