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Sanford Still Getting Richer: Top Five Ways T. Denny Can Get Back on Track for Bankruptcy!

T. Denny Sanford’s wealth has grown by $600 million since April.

$600 million in six months. Consider the amount of work South Dakotans do to generate that sort of income. In 2019, the median annual household income (household, meaning Mom and Dad both probably putting in hours) was $58,275. So making $600 million in six months would require the labor of over 20,000 typical South Dakota households. That’s the sweat and time of every household in Brown County, Marshall County, and Day County, matching what Sanford gets for leaving his money in various high-finance pots while he reclines and occasionally graces various audiences with his generous eminence.

Reporter Jeremy Fugleberg notes that this growing wealth fouls Sanford’s aspiration to “die broke” and asks his readers to submit their suggestions for how Sanford might accelerate his giving past his earning curve.

Hey, we’re all good at spending other people’s money, right? Here are my top five uses for Sanford’s stubbornly growing billions:

  1. Pull the Premier Bankcard database, identify every credit card holder bankrupted by Sanford’s predatory interest rates, and pay reparations.
  2. Pay the outstanding medical bills of every patient at every Sanford hospital.
  3. Give the state the whole $3.4 billion to place in a fiscal lockbox earning 7% a year. Never touch the principal, but each year, use the interest to pay every public K-12 teacher in South Dakota a bonus that will raise the statewide average teacher salary above the highest average teacher pay in any adjoining state. Start with a $15,000 bonus to each of our roughly 10,000 teachers in 2022, increase bonus by 3% each year, and the principal remains untouched until 2080, by which time the economic stimulus of better, happier teachers and three generations of better educated students will have boosted South Dakota’s tax revenues so high that the Sanford teacher stipend will no longer be necessary.
  4. Save South Dakota from the moral stain of the trust companies by paying each of the trust companies’ South Dakota employees $10,000,000. Spend any remaining cash on lobbyists to convince the Legislature to repeal South Dakota’s laws allowing perpetual trusts.
  5. Fund the expansion of South Dakota’s Government Accountability Board. With all these complaints the Attorney General is sending their way, the GAB is going to need more judges.

There are my top five plans for Denny’s money. Come on over to the water cooler and propose your own big ideas: how can we spare Denny the burden of his persistent wealth and do some good for South Dakota?


  1. Susan Johannsen 2021-10-08 09:19

    Invest in township infrastructure in this state since the state doesn’t want to.

  2. Eve Fisher 2021-10-08 09:31

    Use the billions to set up a South Dakota Care health care system that (like Romneycare in Massachusetts) provides full health services to every person in the state.
    Also, use a wee bit of the money to build & finance a Sioux Falls Central Park – a square mile of beautifully landscaped gardens, walkways, ponds, etc. – for the free benefit of all Sioux Falls and South Dakota citizens to use.

  3. larry kurtz 2021-10-08 09:34

    As long as we’re dreaming Mr. Sanford could buy out as many white West River ranchers as he can then advocate for paying the tribes and settling the Black Hills Claim, dissolving the Black Hills National Forest, moving management of the land from the US Department of Agriculture into the Department of Interior in cooperation with Bureau of Indian Affairs Division of Forestry and Wildfire Management. Mato Paha (Bear Butte), the associated national grasslands and the Sioux Ranger District of the Custer/Gallatin National Forest should be included in the move.

    Rewild it and rename it He Sapa or Paha Sapa National Monument eventually becoming part of the Greater Missouri Basin National Wildlife Refuge connecting the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge in Montana along the Missouri River to Oacoma, South Dakota combined with corridors from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon in the north and south to the Pecos River through Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

  4. jerry 2021-10-08 09:42

    Wonder how that child porn deal is going regarding Sanford. Maybe he will need the money to keep this all on the down low…. Seems to be working

  5. Yvonne 2021-10-08 09:50

    But hey, he’s spreading the wealth amongst those that put him there…legislators, governors, lobbyist, unscrupulous attorneys and judges, on and on. Follow the money. A few bread crumbs to the needy to make it look good and benefit from tax advantages at the same time.
    And enact a law that donors and contributors cannot put their name on anything they are a part of. If this is truly a country founded upon in God We Trust, then prove it. Sacriligous just like the Pharisees, the sadducees and the scribes back when the one and true God was once the center of humanity’s belief system these three loyalists hated to hear what the true gospel stood for. Now, it’s just CINO.
    Christian in Name Only.

  6. O 2021-10-08 10:27

    I would second Eve’s suggestion for providing health services to those who cannot afford them; that is REAL health care reform. Best of all, it would target those who really made him rich.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-10-08 12:34

    I’ll take some, a summer vacation home near Sylvan would be fine. I could do bronze portrait of T., just another sculpture in the hills, I guess it could go on a streetcorner in Rapid, or put it on skyline drive. It wouldn’t be a total gift. What’s his address? That reminds me.,I’ve got to go get my lotto ticket.

  8. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-08 15:31

    Ooh, Fantasy Philanthropy! My favorite! A million to every SD:

    Community Action Agency
    Public library
    No-kill animal shelter and sanctuary
    Secular child care center
    Food pantry

  9. Cathy Brechtelsbauer 2021-10-09 07:41

    Transportation. Fund an expanded, enhanced, and fare-free bus system for Sioux Falls and other SD cities and inter-city buses around the state. Run extra buses to and from the State Capitol during legislative sessions. (Currently, people are charged $1.50 per bus ride to get to the Sanford Hospital complex. It’s double if they have to transfer buses or $3 for a day pass. You’d think he would have made Route#2 fare-free already.]

  10. larry kurtz 2021-10-09 08:09

    Amtrak service is not impossible across South Dakota.

    Watco Companies owns some 43 shortline railroads in North America and Australia but in Chicago the firm has been accused of environmental racism after the US Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of manganese, lead and arsenic in the soil on the city’s Southeast Side. Chicago is a notorious railroad bottleneck where spills of toxic materials are myriad.

    Despite those revelations the State of South Dakota has sold the former Milwaukee Road right of way from Mitchell to Rapid City to Watco instead of deeding it back to the tribal nations signatory to the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868. Based in Pittsburg, Kansas Watco’s biggest customer is Koch Industries, a major campaign contributor to Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and her whims.

    Before it was ousted the Trump Organization’s Department of Transportation headed by the wife of Republican former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell awarded more than $5.6 million in grants to upgrade infrastructure and enhance rail safety in the red moocher state that is South Dakota including $2.24 million for the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern mainline. The move comes after catastrophic plunges in commodities prices, numerous wrecks and water breaches on track owned by RCPE, a subsidiary of Genesee and Wyoming operating just north of the former Milwaukee line on a nearly parallel trackbed. Kevin Schieffer knew how impossible it was to maintain track between Fort Pierre and Rapid City and cashed in when Genesee and Wyoming bought the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.

    Recall that in 1997 South Dakota got $23 million for going without Amtrak service so then-Gov. Bill Janklow funneled much of it into the Governor’s Club and in 2007 Gov. Mike Rounds spent some of it on an airplane for his personal use. Now, Gov. Noem is using it to campaign for issues and candidates for the extreme white wing of the Republican Party. So today, South Dakota is the only state where Charles Koch has been able to thwart passenger rail and the only state in the continental United States without a proposed Amtrak station.

    In 2015 I called an RCPE executive who said that the line between Crawford and Dakota Junction, Nebraska connecting to Rapid City is active and hauling bentonite south to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and to Union Pacific. She said that although there is virtually no westbound shipping over the line between Wolsey and Rapid City, South Dakota or Colony, Wyoming the State of South Dakota subsidizes enough siding development, money that the state receives from the federal government through the transportation bill, that shipments of one-way freight allow the railroad to cash flow.

    The railroad is content to move product at ten miles an hour between Wall and Fort Pierre where Cretaceous shale buckles track bed every year. She also said RCPE has no intention to secure leases for new rail bed from Colony to the Powder River Basin coal fields and that the railroad won’t transport coal across South Dakota. When asked she could not say whether the company’s parent, Genesee & Wyoming is talking to that state or its residents about leasing the relatively short distance from Colony to its rights on the BSNF main line near Gillette.

    New Mexico’s GOP representative voted with the state’s Democrats for final passage of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015. South Dakota’s Republican At-large Representative now Gov. Kristi Noem voted for an amendment that would have ended federal funding for Amtrak as did Montana’s GOP At-large representative, Ryan Zinke, even as they voted to continue subsidized air service.

    A 2015 multi-modal intercity passenger rail plan proposes a route between Minneapolis and Denver that would serve just Sioux Falls in South Dakota but connect with the California Zephyr at Omaha as part of a Phase Two development. The Pierre Shale between Oacoma and Rapid City is a major obstacle and is why passenger rail across South Dakota failed but two east/west rail routes across South Dakota exclusively for freight is lunacy. In addition to the money the federal government is spending the State of South Dakota is throwing some $20 million at the RCPE so it can haul whatever freight it wants.

    As rail coal traffic dies Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and the Big Sky Rail Authority have moved ten counties to restore the North Coast Hiawatha line through southern Montana after Amtrak ended service in 1979.

    One solution to bring Amtrak to South Dakota is an intermodal route between Minneapolis and Denver through Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Crawford and Alliance, Nebraska. It involves three or more rights of way: the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe Railway, the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad, the former Milwaukee Road and maybe the Union Pacific. The sale of the old Milwaukee Road to Watco is not a done deal and would have to go away. Watco is buying 285 miles of track. At 6 acres per mile of right of way they are paying about $7602/acre. Why? The sale is intended as a slam of Warren Buffett who owns the BNSF in favor of the Koch Network, nothing more.

    But the bridges across the Missouri and Cheyenne Rivers on the Milwaukee Road are junk so are the ones across the Cheyenne and White Rivers on the RCPE south of Rapid City. The Milwaukee Road terminates at East St. Pat and Elk Vale Road in Rapid City so a depot there has merit but the purchase of a right of way from there to the RCPE and its route south to Dakota Junction in Nebraska would have to happen. There is an abandoned track bed between Crawford and Torrington, Wyoming that could serve Cheyenne: a destination on Amtrak’s Front Range expansion timetable.

    The US is not China; we can’t build rail lines anywhere we want to because the state can’t just seize land without due process. The unhinged South Dakota Legislature is largely a product of ALEC because the Koch network has billions stashed tax free in South Dakota banks. To them passenger rail is socialism.

    My home town of Elkton is the first South Dakota town on the east end of the old Chicago and North Western. In 1997 I considered shipping the salvage oak flooring from the Showboat Ballroom in Lake Benton, Minnesota to St. Onge west of Sturgis where there’s a siding. Stamps in the rail there are from 1898. The first town on the south end in South Dakota is Ardmore where I almost bought property that includes a siding on the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe.

    A water pipeline from the Missouri River to Rapid City would cost some $2 billion and tear up several hundred miles of unbroken high plains but passenger rail connecting the Midwest to mountains in existing rights of way is doable progress.

    But here’s the dealio. If an existing track bed between Oacoma and Rapid City can be salvaged and made good enough for passenger rail it admits the geology is stable enough for a tar sands pipeline. Measures must be taken not just to prevent collisions with motor vehicles but with wildlife, too.

    Look on the bright side, South Dakota. It’s not in President Biden’s rail plan but if someday Amtrak connects the Southwest Chief at Pueblo or Trinidad, Colorado to the Empire Builder at Shelby, Montana through Denver there might be a depot at Edgemont.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-09 08:59

    Susan, should we invest in every township, or only the townships that have demonstrated potential for sustaining their populations and services?

    Of course, maybe that’s the problem: townships can’t grow if they don’t have good infrastructure.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-09 09:02

    Child care—Sanford has supported health care, so why not expand his philanthropy to establishing a child care fund that would keep child care affordable for all the folks he’s bankrupted with his usury cards?

  13. grudznick 2021-10-09 11:08

    Your #3 idea, Mr. H, would never work. No matter what they promise, the greedy teachers always reneg on any deal involving short term raises. They would whine and whine and whine no matter how much money Mr. Sanford gave to them. Replace “teachers” in #3 with “coaches and janitors” and then maybe you’ve got something.

    Your #4 idea is reasonable, however, as long as there was a date put in that made it so the out-of-staters couldn’t move here to get their share.

  14. grudznick 2021-10-09 11:20

    grudznick means sports coaches. Limited to football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and track. No tennis. For sure no drama “coaches.” No debate about it, either.

  15. Cathy Brechtelsbauer 2021-10-09 14:11

    If Larry can figure out how to get passenger rail service to South Dakota, maybe Transportation Sec’y Buttigieg could too. I and a lot of other people would sure be for it.

  16. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-09 15:19

    I agree, Cathy Brechtelsbauer. It’s ludicrous (but typical) South Dakota has no connecting national passenger rail service. I’ve explained, in great detail, to three people in the last eight years they’d either have to travel to North Dakota or Denver to ride the rails, and they initially scoffed at me when I told them that. Two were mentally competent to do their own research when I told them I couldn’t just drop them off in Union Station in Rapid. The third was so old and demented he could not believe it, because when he was young there were passenger trains “everywhere.”

  17. larry kurtz 2021-10-09 15:44

    It’s difficult to imagine Denny Sanford buying railroad right of way anywhere especially if air service is subsidized.

    New Mexico built commuter rail between Santa Fe and Albuquerque some of it in the median of I-25 but COVID shut it down for a year and it’s struggling to regain its ridership. Amtrak service between Cheyenne and El Paso through Denver is still years away.

    President Eisenhower killed passenger rail with the interstate highway system and the Earth is worst for it, for sure.

  18. Mark Anderson 2021-10-10 17:13

    Grudz hates teachers, he whines and whines about them. Larry I grew up in Highmore near the rail line and used to flatten change on the line. That’s about all its good for. Way back when when people used to travel on the line Highmore had two hotels and even an entertainment center. I don’t believe those days will ever come back. The drive from Sioux Falls to Rapid is just too exciting to drive at top speed., make it reasonable and proper, even better. No really Amtrack would be great across the state. I will always remember when you first get on 90 just outside of Sioux Falls from 29 there was a sign listing how far Rapid City is. It took it out of you.

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