Democratic Party Chairman calls on Attorney General to investigate governor’s use of state airplane for personal and political travel.

Sioux Falls, SD (February 17, 2021) – South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman, Randy Seiler, today called on Attorney General, Jason Ravnsborg, to open a formal investigation into the breaking news story that Governor Kristi Noem has repeatedly broken South Dakota law by using the state-owned airplane for personal use.  

Republican Governor Kristi Noem took advantage of her access to South Dakota’s state airplane to fly to multiple partisan political events around the country–as well as for personal purposes within state borders–on South Dakota taxpayers’ dime in 2019, according to a bombshell report from online news outlet Raw Story.

According to the news story, “the flight logs, published for the first time in this report, 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…”

South Dakota law expressly forbids political and personal use of the state-owned aircraft for political and personal purposes.

Reporters used Noem’s own social media posts, press reports and flight logs uncovered by a public records activist to piece together the pattern of misuse including speaking slots in front of “conservative political interest groups and GOP power players.” Among those trips were NRA and Turning Point USA conferences in Texas, a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at a Las Vegas casino owned by billionaire GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, and multiple trips to an organization whose purpose is to elect Republican state governors.

State Senator Reynold Nesiba is quoted in the article. “This looks like somebody who is personally and politically benefiting from South Dakota state assets,” Democratic State Senator Reynold Nesiba said. “Nobody should be politically or personally enriching themselves at the public trough.” 

Before his stint in the state legislature, Nesiba championed the successful 2006 Initiated Measure 5. That law forbids using state-owned or leased aircraft for anything other than official “state business.” Offenders are subject to fines equaling ten times the value of the flight.

“Governor Noem is certainly entitled to have fun,” Seiler said, “but she shouldn’t be having it on the taxpayer dime, and she certainly shouldn’t be doing it in violation of South Dakota law.  The South Dakota Democratic Party calls on Attorney General Ravnsborg to immediately open a formal investigation into Governor Noem’s apparent, numerous violations of South Dakota law.  Refusing to do so would be a refusal to enforce the laws of our state which is, after all, his job.”

Noem has also come under bipartisan scrutiny for using a state-funded security detail throughout much of 2020 while campaigning for national Republican candidates outside the state while COVID-19 infection and mortality rates skyrocketed in South Dakota. Republican lawmaker Taffy Howard brought a bill this session that would make the costs of that detail public.

Noem spokesman Ian Fury tried to justify the thousands of flight miles and potential hundreds of thousands of misspent state dollars. “One of Governor Noem’s primary roles as Governor is to be South Dakota’s top ambassador to the rest of the nation.”

Former Republican governor Mike Rounds also tried to justify using the state’s plane to attend his son’s basketball games, arguing in 2005 that as governor, he was always on public business. South Dakota voters didn’t buy that excuse, leading to IM 5’s passage into state law.

Rounds both requested and approved the purchase of the state’s King Air 200 propellor plane in 2005.

Please direct questions to SDDP Vice Chair Nikki Gronli
via email or phone (605) 376-3337.