Politico's Billionaire GOP donor is funding South Dakota National Guard border deployment says:

Willis Johnson doesn’t live in the state but says he backs Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential presidential candidate who has called migration a “national security crisis.”

A wealthy Republican donor says he is funding up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops whom Gov. Kristi Noem is sending to the U.S.-Mexico border.

I’m trying to help out the governor and help America,” said Willis Johnson, the billionaire founder and chairman of a global company called Copart Inc., which auctions used, wholesale and wrecked cars.

Johnson does not wield any direct power over the National Guard as far as I know, but the availability of funds may make it politically easier or more expedient for South Dakota governor Noem to execute and support the troop movement, and it certainly elevates them visibly and politically, potentially a boost for Noem in their current position and in any "potential" presidential run in the future.

Question: Can this infusion of private money into the state's budget to fund a specific, highly visible movement of South Dakota National Guard troops and associated supplies and equipment be considered a campaign donation to the extent that it might need to be reported and treated as such? Does it violate any other state or federal law, regulation or statute because of the connection between troop movements and some rich person's pocketbook?

Note that in the United States the National Guard has been used several times to defend assets against United States citizens and has occasionally shot and killed some of them, so it's interesting to see a rich private citizen having any hand in their activities, or at least trying to.

Addendum: the state at the receiving end (South Dakota does not border Mexico) appears to be Texas which has received help from other states.

update: From Politico 07/10/2021 Why Are Republican Governors Sending National Guard to the Border?:

A state lawmaker says it’s legal, but security experts have called the moved unethical and dangerous. “You certainly don’t want our national security priorities up to the highest bidder,” Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight told the Washington Post.

  • Are private armies actually allowed in the USA? That is to say, are private individuals allowed to lease part of the National Guard for their own purposes?
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 11:41
  • @RedSonja that was touched on at least indirectly at the end; that important bit of background and research (that those unfamiliar with US history may not know) was deleted but I've restored it. It doesn't answer your question but you've certainly identified one important aspect of the the topic.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 12:07
  • Texas isn't receiving the help here; the federal government is. The mission at the border is under federal command, and immigration is a federal matter.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 11:34
  • @phoog I think that if the federal government mobilizes a group of National Guard by federalizing them then the federal government pays for it as well. Since this situation involves private funding made available to a state governor, so that the governor can send troops to another state, in this case the federal government is completely out of the loop.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 11:56
  • 1
    @uhoh I see that many outlets are reporting a request from the Texas governor, though the article I saw yesterday reported the request from the Department of the Army. Of course, it's possible that both requests exist. As far as I know, it's also possible for state agents, including the national guard, to operate in certain cases under federal command or in coordination with federal agents while not being paid by the federal government. Whether the state can accept a private donation to pay for a mission of the national guard doesn't particularly interest me as much as the command structure.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


The specifics of legality are more the realm of Law Stack Exchange, so I will focus on the policy concepts in play that support the South Dakota Lawmaker's stance that it is legal, these are discussed in this blog post albeit for the Federal government but the same principles apply.

Revenue is an unqualified good thing for a state government.

The more money a government has, the more it can do and the better it can achieve its policy goals. It would be nonsensical for a government to turn down voluntarily offered cash money.

Money is fungible.

A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. If I donate a dollar to the State of South Dakota's government, even if I designate that it be used for something specific, they can simply adjust their budgeting such that the net effect is I put the dollar towards whatever they wanted to be doing anyway. The process looks like this:

  1. I give them $1 to deploy the National Guard, it goes into that fund.
  2. They reduce the South Dakota National Guard's budget by $1, and divert that funding to... school lunches, let's say.
  3. The net effect of my $1 donation to the National Guard is $1 more for school lunches.

Outlawing designations for donations is a pointless exercise until/unless there are separate donation accounts with rules about how the money is spent, into which citizens can pay. A state law establishing such a fund for the National Guard would almost certainly come under all sorts of attack that we cannot predict the outcome of, so for now that part of the question is moot.

Such donations are not considered campaign donations. They are, IIRC, tax deductible as charitable donations because they are monies given up for public use.

  • "Revenue is an unqualified good thing..." Can this be supported as written; can you cite examples and precedent for this, for money donated by a single individual for specific purposes? I'm thinking that this phrase is just made up rather than supported with facts. X donates $100 million specifically to install a pair of drinking fountains with "W" and "B" written on them in every state and local municipal building. This revenue is an "unqualified good thing"? I'm so far unconvinced.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 21:57
  • @uhoh I mean, if you want to construct the sorts of hypotheticals that courts will laugh out of the room, sure you can build corner case exceptions. But just because someone donates money for your water fountain situation doesn't mean you're under any obligation to build the water fountains. It'd be up to the courts to determine if you even had to give the money back, or if simply installing unmarked water fountains sufficiently met the donor's request, and so on. But insofar as the funds are being offered for something you already spend money on, the fungibility moots the donor's designation. Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 2:16
  • So you're proposing the state "take the money and run"? Isn't that unethical? Doesn't that set an unsustainable precedent? I still don't see how this is a proper, supported answer.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 3:32
  • I'm not proposing that, no. I'm pointing out that there's a boundary of credibility beyond which hypotheticals don't need to be considered and a 'donor' trying to abuse an abbreviated statement of principle needn't be taken seriously as an objection. Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 13:21
  • On the flip side, it would be like requiring that the child tax credit payments be specifically used to benefit the children. Practically anything that benefits the family's finances improve the childrens' lives.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 22:39

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