Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), a supporter of ex-President Donald Trump, has been caught appearing to use a South Dakota state government plane for personal political business, which is against the law. During 2019, Noem used a state plane to travel to events put on by conservative groups including the National Rifle Association and the conservative student organization known as Turning Point USA, but South Dakota law insists that state aircraft only be used for official state business. Characterizing a trip to a Turning Point USA conference as official business definitely seems dubious, at best.
On another occasion, Noem used a state plane to travel to New York City, where she hoped to — as she put it — “cheer on the South Dakota Float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade” but also ended up visiting a restaurant that appeared in Seinfeld, Central Park, and Radio City Music Hall, and none of these stops exactly seem like official state business. According to South Dakota law, violations of the law against using state aircraft for anything other than state business can carry “a civil penalty of not more than one thousand dollars plus ten times the cost incurred by the state,” and the questionable trips cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Ian Fury, who works as a spokesperson for Noem, insisted that the governor — who, among other things, has resisted calls to take the COVID-19 crisis more seriously — acted in line with the law while taking those trips. He said as follows:
‘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.’
Does he seriously expect people to believe that a trip to a Turning Point USA conference was somehow part of a sincere effort to attract tourism and business activity to South Dakota? Turning Point USA is a far-right organization known for its avid support of Trumpism. Of course, hesitation on the part of authorities in South Dakota to try and hold Noem accountable for the trips in question could be an issue, but the violations nonetheless seem rather glaring.