Gov. Kristi Noem sued over release of travel expense records

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is facing a lawsuit after her office refused to release expense records for five trips out of state this year to a Liberal watchdog group.

American Oversight, an organization that files disclosure requests and litigation against Republican officials, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Noem, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign and is eyeing a bid for the GOP’s 2024 presidential ticket. It is alleged that the governor’s office failed to obey the state open records law, claiming that releasing the records would pose a threat to the governor’s safety.

In May, the organization requested expense reports, including lodging and travel, for 2022 trips Noem took to a hunting convention in Las Vegas, two Republican Party events in Wyoming and New York, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and a campaign event in the Republican US -Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

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American Oversight also said the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation did not respond to its request for filing for legal expenses related to negotiating a $200,000 settlement agreement with a former state employee, Sherry Bren. She had filed an age discrimination complaint after being pressured into retiring by Marcia Hultman, Noem’s Labor Secretary. Hultman began soliciting Bren’s retirement in the weeks after Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, completed her real estate appraiser’s license — a process in which Noem took a hands-on role.

“We have asked Gov. Noem to disclose how certain high-profile matters have cost South Dakota, particularly her travel expenses and expenses related to her involvement in her daughter’s real estate licensing,” said Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight. “South Dakota law requires disclosure of public spending, and the public has a right to see how Governor Noem spends their money.”

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As Noem rose to national prominence in the GOP and traveled the country speaking at events, she was scrutinized for the cost of her trip, including inquiries about what it costs taxpayers to ensure her safety at out-of-state campaign events. Noem’s office has refused to release these charges as it would jeopardize their safety.

She also faces an investigation into whether using a government plane to travel to events held by political organizations in 2019 was legal use of the plane. Noem has defended these trips as part of her work as the state’s “ambassador”. She did not use a government aircraft on the 2022 trips.

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The governor’s office and the Department of Labor and Regulation did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

Ian Fury, campaign spokesman for Noem, said in a statement: “This is a baseless political attack by an activist liberal organisation. You have no interest in the truth. Their tactics are typical election year propaganda.”

He did not respond to a question about whether Noem’s political funds paid for expenses such as housing when she traveled to political events.

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