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GOP Donor Is Funding South Dakota National Guard Troops In Texas

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In a dig at the Biden administration, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is asking other states for help in patrolling the southern border. South Dakota's Republican governor, Kristi Noem, says she's sending National Guard troops in response to Abbott's request. Noem says the deployment is being funded with a private donation. It is not clear that's legal. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Arielle Zionts reports.

ARIELLE ZIONTS, BYLINE: Governor Noem tweeted Monday that she's sending up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to Texas because, quote, "the Biden administration has failed to keep America safe." On Tuesday, she added that the deployment will be funded by a donation from the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation. The Johnsons are billionaires from Tennessee who donate to conservative causes across the country. Ian Fury, a spokesman for the governor, says Willis Johnson reached out to her, offering the donation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IAN FURY: Governor Noem welcomes any donations that help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers.

ZIONTS: Fury later confirmed the donation amount is $1 million. He says two state laws allow private donations that are, quote, "in the best interest of the state" and for, quote, "emergency management." A professor at the South Dakota School of Law says nothing in state law prevents the donation, but it would be illegal if the mission was instigated and directed by the donors. Dwight Stirling, who is a reserve military lawyer in the California National Guard, says the unusual donation goes against state and federal law.

DWIGHT STIRLING: If we allow a private citizen to donate money for a particular operation or mission, then it looks like those soldiers are working for the billionaire or for the donor. And that puts the chain of command in doubt, and that raises a question about the whole legitimacy of that mission.

ZIONTS: The South Dakota Democratic Party called the deployment political and said the private funding is turning the National Guard into, quote, "mercenaries." It has asked Governor Noem to return the money.

For NPR News, I'm Arielle Zionts in Rapid City.

(SOUNDBITE OF PSALM TREES AND MOOSE DAWA'S "NO LIES (FT. ANDRAS SZILAGYI)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.