Noam’s use of state plane weighs in on South Dakota investigation IG News

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Sioux Falls, SD – South Dakota Gov. Christie Noem was returning from an official appearance in Rapid City in 2019 when she was faced with a decision: overnight in Pierre’s capital, where another visit would begin the next day, or going home to see her son at his high school. See prom?

The Republican governor chose the latter, a decision that ultimately cost taxpayers about $3,700 when a state airplane dropped her near her home and then returned to pick her up the next day.

It is one of several visits that year where Noem, a potential 2024 White House contender, blurred the lines between official travel and attending family or political events. Trips complained to the state ethics board, which has referred the matter to the state’s criminal investigation department. A county prosecutor overseeing the investigation will decide whether the governor broke an unapproved law enacted by voters in 2006 to rein in the state’s questionable use of airplanes.

The governor also faced action by the same ethics board for interfering with a state agency after she moved her daughter to deny her a real estate appraiser’s license.

As Noam’s political stars rose in 2020, he began using private jets to fly to fundraisers, campaign events and conservative gatherings.

But before that, in the first year of his term in 2019, Noem used the state plane six times to fly to out-of-state events organized by political organizations including the Republican Governors Association, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Turning Point USA, and National did. Rifle Association. Raw Story, an online news site, first reported the visits, which the governor’s office defended as part of his work as the state’s “ambassador” to strengthen the state’s economy and intergovernmental relations. did.

State plane logs also show that Noem’s family members joined him on state flights in 2019.

The 2006 ballot was a response to an investigation into air travel by the then government. Mike Rounds, who attended events such as his son’s away basketball games, while on other official business trips. At the time, Rounds, now a U.S. senator, used political funds to fund travel to political events, along with state reimbursement for those trips.

State Sen. Reynold Neciba, a Democrat who proposed the ballot measure before becoming a legislator, said voters were clear in their intentions.

“When it has been used for family members, it is a clear violation of not only the letter but also the spirit of the law, which was passed in colossal amounts,” he said.

Noem campaign spokesman Ian Fury said it was “completely within precedent” for family members to join governors on flights, adding that “the level of nitpickiness is ridiculous because he does such a job for less than Dennis Daugaard.” are doing,” referring to Noam’s Republican predecessor.

State plane logs from Daugaard’s last-term show wife, Linda, are involved in frequent visits. Daugaard’s sister and daughter also joined in one visit each in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Noem’s children — not counting daughter Kennedy Noem on the governor’s staff as policy analyst — went on nine plane trips during her first term.

On another visit, Noem’s itinerary allows her to return home for her son’s prom. On April 5, 2019, she boarded the state plane from Watertown, near her home in Castlewood, to Rapid City for an announcement at Ellsworth Air Force Base. On the return flight, the plane stopped in the capital city Pierre to drop off Rounds, who had joined him for the journey, and several associates. But even though she was planning another trip from Pierre to Las Vegas for a Republican Jewish Coalition event the next day, Noem didn’t stay there at the governor’s mansion.

According to Noem’s social media post, she flew to Watertown, near her home, to see her son take the stage at his prom. The state plane, meanwhile, returned to Pierre, only for the governor to travel to Watertown the next day.

Fury defended the visits as her journey began in Watertown, where she had spoken the day before at an event in her son’s school district.

“Part of the official trip is returning from an official trip,” Fury said.

She used a similar defense for a May 30, 2019 visit, which began in Custer, where she stayed to help her daughter prepare for her wedding, and to speak at two youth leadership events. Traveled across the state. Noem’s son, nephew, and a friend of his, who was attending one of those events in Aberdeen, boarded the state plane back to attend the wedding preparations.

Fury said getting his son and his friends on the flight did not cost the state any extra money and was part of his official visit.

Richard Brifault, a professor at Columbia Law School specializing in government ethics, said Noem’s journey to political events falls in a legal gray area. While fundraising or campaign travel would clearly break the law, he said, traveling to meet with political groups was “pushing the limit”.

Across the country, Democratic and Republican governors alike have come under scrutiny for their use of state planes. New York, Kentucky, Minnesota and Montana allow governors to do some politics with state-owned aircraft, but impose some restrictions and require reimbursement for political use. New York also allows immediate family members to travel with the governor.

Hughes County State Attorney Jessica Lamy, who was appointed to investigate whether Noem broke the law, promised a “thorough” investigation.

“If you take the title and everything out of it, it’s no different than any other investigation,” she said.

Neil Fulton, dean of the University of South Dakota Law School, who also served as Rounds’ chief of staff after the enactment of the 2006 law, said it is not entirely clear what the law refers to “state business”. the meaning is. Define state business as “action to further the programs or initiatives of the state”.

The law imposes a hefty fine: $1,000 plus 10 times the cost of the trip. Violators also face a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in prison, but this is usually reserved only for repeat or violent offenders.

“We weren’t expecting anyone to blame for anything,” said state lawmaker Nesiba. “We were hoping to create a deterrent.”

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