GOP Governor Busted for Abusing State Aircraft Privileges
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, “used a state airplane to travel to right-wing political events around the country, a revelation that has state lawmakers questioning whether she violated a state law forbidding political and personal use of the aircraft,” according to an exclusive report by Raw Story that was published on Monday.
Noem is considered a rising star in the Republican Party and a potential future torch-bearer to ex-President Donald Trump’s racist “Make America Great Again” political movement.
South Dakota law “forbids the use of a state-owned aircraft for anything other than state business. There are no exceptions, and the law mandates fines of ten times the cost of the flight for a plane’s misuse,” Raw Story noted.
Those flight logs, based on public records discovered by activist Michael Petrelis, “raise questions about the propriety of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of taxpayer-funded flights to out-of-state events hosted by groups such as the National Rifle Association, Turning Point USA, and an organization affiliated with the late GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, South Dakota politicians and experts told Raw Story.”
Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, defended the governor’s actions as totally legitimate.
“Governor Noem follows the law when weighing whether it is appropriate to use state aircraft,” Fury wrote in an email. “One of Governor Noem’s primary roles as Governor is to be South Dakota’s top ambassador to the rest of the nation. She has made this a big part of her governorship, advertising to attract businesses to our state, to drive tourism to our state, and to appeal to particular industries.”
Per Raw Story:
Amid a $5 million request she included in her budget outline to fund the purchase of a new state airplane, South Dakota senators will debate a bill this week probing the cost of her taxpayer-funded security detail, which traveled alongside her as she toured the country as a surrogate for then-President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
The out-of-state trips identified by a Raw Story analysis of the flight logs appear to have had nothing to do with her Trump campaign-related travel, which the governor’s communications team has previously said all took place on commercial aircraft or on planes paid for by other campaigns.
Instead, this travel all occurred in 2019, before the presidential campaign was in full swing. Noem traveled by plane to speak before conservative political interest groups and GOP power players. The trips included an NRA conference in San Antonio; a gathering in Dallas of the right-wing youth group Turning Point USA; and a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at a Las Vegas casino. She also regularly used the plane to travel to get-togethers hosted by a group for Republican governors in Aspen, Boca Raton and Kentucky.
Other travel appeared to blend the personal and the professional. A trip to New York City to see South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade doubled as a food- and shopping-filled family holiday that flight logs show coincided with Noem’s 48th birthday.