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Real Reason for Noem’s Estate Tax Obsession: Helping SD Trusts Earn Higher Fees?

Christopher Vondracek of Courthouse News Service reviews the documents surrounding the much-mythologized settlement of the estate of Rep. Kristi Noem’s father and comes to the same conclusion as every other outside observer so far on record: Noem’s family had many options available that would have allowed them to avoid taking out a loan to pay federal estate tax in 1994.

But Vondracek’s article suggests that Noem’s dogged opposition to the estate tax may arise from more than her rage at seeing the value of her family’s inherited gross wealth by less than 5%:

Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmer’s Union, is a multi-generation beef and cattle farmer who also raised dairy for 20 years.

“They’re paying off their damned donors,” Teske said in a phone interview, referring to politicians. “Hardly any farmers are affected by this estate tax. And if they are, well, they’ve got some wealth” [Christopher Vondracek, “Congresswoman’s ‘Death Tax’ Saga a Lesson in Estate Planning,” Courthouse News, 2017.12.15].

Wait a minute: if hardly any farmers are affected by the estate tax, then what donors are benefiting?

How about the clever lawyers and financial gurus raking in cash from tax-dodging (excuse me—the preferred term is tax-deferring) millionaires in South Dakota’s trust industry?

And loosening up dynastic tax regulations can be good, not only for the largest farm and ranch family estates and the many wealthy families who need only have a post office box in South Dakota to take advantage of the state’s friendly trust laws, but it’s also good for local business.

“Every time a beneficiary in one generation dies and the benefits pass to the next generation, the trust gets trimmed by 40 percent, which means the fees also get trimmed by 40 percent,” [tax attorney Robert] Lord said [Vondracek, 2017.12.15].

First National Trust and Management Services ad 2016
A lot of South Dakotans making a lot of money farming the wealth of millionaires whose estate tax Kristi Noem wants to repeal.

According to this July 2016 promo from the South Dakota Trust Association, Sterling Trustees held $2.1 billion of client trust assets, First National Bank in Sioux Falls held $4 billion, and South Dakota Trust Company held $30 billion. Those are just three of a couple dozen trust management firms listed. At the end of 2012, the South Dakota Division of Banking said South Dakota trust companies held over $120 billion.

Governor Dennis Daugaard himself used to pitch tax-saving trusts when he was a Sioux Falls banker. South Dakota Republicans know how much money they can make off rich people’s money… and the less those rich people have to turn over in estate tax, the more South Dakota’s trust gurus can make in fees.

But helping trust managers maximize their fees doesn’t sound nearly as folksy as portraying estate tax repeal as a brave stand for family farmers in memory of Kristi Noem’s dearly departed dad. Thus Republicans have Kristi Noem as their faltering poster girl for one more deficit-inflating tax giveaway to the 1%.


  1. Rorschach 2017-12-18 13:46

    Looks to me like there is a baby boom in the trust department. Times are good!

  2. leslie 2017-12-18 16:09

    now we are getting somewhere. SD, the wealth industry, SD’s largest industry. bastards

  3. jerry 2017-12-18 16:23

    South Dakota roypublicans like NOem and Kevin Brady prove that you do indeed need do overs. NOem needs one to cover the crap she has been spreading like a cat on castor oil. Kevin Brady needs a new bill to cover the crap he has been spreading the same way.

    What do both of these lying liars have in common? They are both born and raised in South Dakota.

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