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Defense bill bans states from using private funds to deploy Nat’l Guard

Members of the South Dakota National Guard attend a ceremony March 7, 2021 at Joe Foss Field, South Dakota. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Taylor Solberg)
December 17, 2021

The National Defense Authorization Act passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes a section that prohibits the National Guard from being deployed across states lines through private funding, Newsweek first reported Thursday. The legislation awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.

The bill specifically bars troops from being privately funded for deployments across state lines, except in emergency situations as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The move comes after a billionaire “private donor” who referred to himself as a “hardcore Republican” funded the deployment of up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the southern border in Texas in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for assistance as thousands of illegal immigrants continuing crossing the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year.

At the time, the private donation came from the Tennessee-based Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation. A Vietnam veteran, Willis Johnson told Politico that he met the South Dakota governor at a political fundraiser “a while back.”

“I’m trying to help out the governor and help America,” said Willis Johnson, the billionaire founder and chairman of Copart Inc., an online car auction service. “I believe in her state and Texas,” he said, adding that he is “a hardcore Republican.”

Noem said the privately-funded deployment was justified because the Biden administration “failed in the most basic duty of the federal government: keeping the American people safe.”

“The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide.  We should not be making our own communities less safe by sending our police or Highway Patrol to fix a long-term problem President Biden’s Administration seems unable or unwilling to solve,” Noem said. “My message to Texas is this: help is on the way.”

When asked about how a private donation can fund a National Guard mission, Noem’s spokesperson Ian Fury told Politico in a text message, “The Governor has authority under SDCL 5-24-12 to accept a donation if she determines doing so is in the best interest of the State. The Governor has additional authority to accept donated funds for emergency management under SDCL 34-48A-36.”

Both of South Dakota’s GOP senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, voted in favor of the bill. Rounds said the bill “includes many wins for South Dakota—including victories for Ellsworth Air Force Base, Dakota State University and Raven Aerostar.”

The NDAA also includes a pay raise for military service members and Defense Department staff.