When Governor Kristi Noem announced her latest waste of National Guard resources Thursday, her spokesboy Ian Fury quickly gas-tweeted that this deployment would be paid for from the state’s Emergency and Disaster Fund, just like the 2021 deployment:
…which is a lie, as we all know that Noem paid for the 2021 Guard/border stunt with a million dollars from Trumpist Tennessee junk-car billionaire Willis Johnson. Johnson’s million covered only two-thirds of the total cost of sending 48 South Dakota National Guards to play flashlight tag and pose for campaign pictures with Noem in Texas.
Of course, Noem can’t rent out our soldiers to rich ideologues any more, because Congress banned such misuse of military resources within months of Noem’s last stunt. So now in addition to trying to wipe from our memory Noem’s past pimpage of the National Guard, Fury is assuring us that this stunt will be entirely on the taxpayers’ tab.
But the money pot Fury and Noem picked this time is also off-limits for border patrol, says Senator Lee Schoenbeck:
Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, did not provide a cost estimate for the deployment, but told South Dakota Searchlight via text message Thursday evening, “All costs will be paid out of the Emergency & Disaster Fund.”
Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican and president pro tempore of the state Senate, said securing the border is a federal responsibility. He said Noem is acting on a “political agenda unrelated to South Dakota issues” and violating the trust placed in the executive branch to spend the state’s money as intended.
“She cannot use those funds for that,” Schoenbeck said Thursday night. “She needs to follow the law” [Seth Tupper, “Noem Plans to Use Emergency and Disaster Money to Pay for Border Troop Deployment,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.06.02].
Tupper does a great job of pointing us toward the law and the Legislative testimony that shows Schoenbeck is right and Noem is misappropriating funds:
- SDCL 34-48A-28 authorizes the Special Emergency and Disaster Special Revenue (SEDSR) Fund for expenditures “to meet special emergency requirements of the Division of Emergency Management, not included in the general and special appropriations which provide for the ordinary operation and maintenance of functions of this department, and for carrying into effect the objectives and provisions of this chapter.”
- SDCL 34-48A-33 and the entire rules structure of SDAR 50:02:01 for administering the SEDSR Fund envision that such emergency assistance goes to county governments in South Dakota.
- SDCL 34-48A-1 defines disasters and emergencies as any grave “catastrophe producing phenomena in any part of the state…”. The statute does not mention grave catastrophes happening in other states.
Now maybe Fury means to parse SDCL 34-48A-1 to mean that the catastrophes may be happening outside the state but producing phenomena in South Dakota that justify a response funded via SEDSR. Fury could point to SDCL 34-48A-2(2), which recognizes the need “to provide for the rendering of mutual aid among the political subdivisions of the state and with other states…,” SDCL 34-48A-19, which authorizes the Secretary of Public Safety, with the Governor’s approval, to “enter into mutual aid agreements with other states…,” and SDCL 34-48A-21, which permits the Secretary of Public Safety to dispatch emergency management workers to “perform their functions in any part of the state or without the state in compliance with mutual aid agreements” [emphases mine].
But Tupper points to testimony and Legislative statements concerning 2023 House Bill 1027 which indicate the SEDSR Fund is meant for in-state use only:
Angela Lemieux, of the Department of Public Safety, testified during the bill’s first public hearing later that month.
“The fund covers costs for emergencies and disasters that occur in the state,” Lemieux told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations.
She said the money is used to help communities recover from natural disasters, and for grants that help communities prepare for future disasters.
After the Joint Appropriations Committee, the bill’s next stop was the House of Representatives, where Republican Lance Koth of Mitchell delivered the only comments.
“It’s a special appropriation for the Emergency and Disaster Fund to cover costs of emergencies and disasters that have already occurred in our state,” Koth said.
In the Senate, the only remarks came from Dean Wink, R-Howes, who offered a detailed example to illustrate the fund’s purpose.
“We’ve had a very dry two years out in the Black Hills, and so we’ve had some wildfires that the locals, it got too big for them,” Wink said. “We have a reciprocal agreement with neighboring states that if we need help, they send their crews and their equipment, and vice versa. And next year, they may need our help. So they send us a bill after going back home, the Department of Public Safety pays it, and now they request us to refill their fund to bring it back up to zero.”
The bill received unanimous support at each level of the Legislature, and Noem signed it into law on Feb. 9.
None of the testimony, nor any of the language in the bill, mentioned out-of-state National Guard deployments [Tupper, 2023.06.02].
Uh oh—did comms director Ian Fury just reveal that his boss is breaking the law by dipping into the Emergency and Disaster Fund? Dang, maybe the Governor should have let her press secretary Amelia Joy handle this matter. Joy has a master’s degree in political communication from American University, unlike Fury’s measly bachelor’s in political economy from conservative-crank mill Hillsdale College. Joy would never have made that mistake.
Senate boss Schoenbeck suggests to Tupper the 2024 Legislature might be a little tighter with its purse strings when the Governor comes asking for money. I would suggest that, if the Governor is illegally diverting state money meant to remedy disasters here at home to prop up her own rather disastrous bid for national political celebrity, the Legislature could pull its impeachment strings. Malfeasance in office is grounds for impeachment, and misuse of public resources for personal gain was among the malfeasance cited as grounds for the impeachment and conviction of killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and is among the articles of impeachment pending against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Senator Schoenbeck has written the book—or at least the legal journal article—on impeachment in South Dakota; he could put that knowledge and experience to use again next year to hold Governor Kristi Noem accountable for her misuse of the Special Emergency and Disaster Special Revenue Fund.