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Republicans reject effort to disclose Noem’s security costs

February 5, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A GOP-led South Dakota House committee rejected a proposal Friday from a fellow Republican that would’ve required Gov. Kristi Noem and other state officials to disclose taxpayer funds used for their security.

Noem, who has traveled the country with a security detail from the state’s Highway Patrol as she campaigned for Donald Trump and raised money for her own gubernatorial committee, pressured Republicans to drop the matter. Her public safety secretary, Craig Price, argued that revealing state funds used for security, even a total figure over the course of a year, would compromise the governor’s safety because would-be criminals could discern the number of state troopers protecting the governor.

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But Rep. Taffy Howard, a Republican from Rapid City, said the bill was a bipartisan effort to bring transparency to how taxpayer funds are used. Howard, a fiscal conservative who works on a legislative committee that crafts the state budget, said she was “dumbfounded” when she learned that the Department of Public Safety would not release how much money it has spent protecting the governor. She has found 14 other states that release the amounts of state funds used protecting the governor.

“Why is conservative South Dakota acting more secretive than Washington state?” Howard asked a committee of House lawmakers evaluating the bill.

Several people from across the state called into the House State Affairs Committee to testify, saying they were supportive of Noem’s politics, but wanted to know how much the state spent protecting the governor.

“I simply don’t see how providing a total cost of the dollars incurred threatens that security,” said Tim Waltner, a former president of the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

But Republicans on the committee sided with Price’s argument that telling the public the amount would “put lives in danger.” The Highway Patrol currently submits a total annual budget for approval by legislators, but that figure does not spell out how much is used for its various responsibilities.

South Dakota law does not allow state funds to be used for influencing political campaigns, but Price said that the Highway Patrol is tasked with protecting the governor no matter where she is or what she is doing.

The committee voted along party lines to dismiss the proposal, with the two Democrats objecting as they argued revealing the security disbursements would not significantly compromise her security.

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The governor’s office has declined records requests from The Associated Press and other media outlets to show how much the state spent on security while she traveled out-of-state last year. She has said she does not discuss security matters.

Two Republicans who had initially signed on to support Howard’s bill had withdrawn their names from supporting it after receiving pressure from Noem, Howard said. A mass texting campaign attacking Howard was also launched. The governor has said she had nothing to do with the text messages.

As Noem’s profile among conservatives continues to rise nationwide and she stays in the conversation of potential presidential picks, her travel schedule is likely to stay active. She is slated later this month to travel to both Florida to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference and to Texas for a fundraiser.

But Howard plans to keep up the push for more transparency in the use of taxpayer dollars, even if she gets pushback.

“Just because we’re the same party doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking into expenditures,” she said.