Jun 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

GOP megadonor funds S.D. troops' border deployment

 Melissa Sue Gerrits / Stringer

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks to attendees at the North Carolina GOP convention on June 5 in Greenville, North Carolina. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits / Getty Images

A Tennessee billionaire and high-dollar Republican donor is funding the deployment of South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S. Mexico border.

Driving the news: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who's gaining attention as a possible 2024 presidential contender, made a splash on Tuesday with an announcement that she was deploying an unspecified number of National Guard troops to the border in Texas. A news release said the deployment "will be paid for by a private donation."

  • Noem spokesperson Ian Fury told Axios the funds are coming from a foundation run by Willis Johnson, founder of automotive salvage and auction company Copart.
  • Fury did not specify the size of the donation, which he said "was made directly to the state of South Dakota." Fury said that, "Governor Noem welcomes any such donations to help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers."
  • Johnson's connection was reported first by Insider.

Neither Johnson nor his charitable group, Willis and Reba Johnson's Foundation, could immediately be reached for comment.

  • The foundation had net assets of nearly $29 million at the end of 2018, the most recent filing period for which annual tax records are publicly available.

Between the lines: The Oklahoma-born Johnson is estimated to be worth $2.2 billion, per Forbes.

  • He's used that fortune to bankroll a number of high-profile political campaigns, including former President Trump's 2020 reelection campaign.
Go deeper