New Records Detail South Dakota Gov. Noem’s Taxpayer Spending on Furnishings for Governor’s Mansion

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on decor and furnishings for her office and mansion, according to new documents obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Argus Leader.

In response to an open records request from American Oversight, Noem’s office released more than 100 pages of records detailing expenditures for renovating and redecorating the governor’s office and residence in Pierre. In total, the office spent about $60,000 between January 2019, the beginning of Noem’s term, and Sept. 20, 2021. The purchases included painting, construction, and design services as well as items such as tables, chairs, lamps, televisions, and other decor. Among the expenses was more than $13,000 for 17 rugs. The Argus Leader also separately found that more than $8,100 was spent on a sauna, which the governor’s office did not include in the documents it released to American Oversight.

The office also wrote in its response letter to American Oversight that there were still outstanding expenditures, including $14,846 for flooring and $2,061 for supplies. It also noted a $4,776 projected expenditure to Upper Deck Architects and $160,765 to MAC Construction, both related to the installation of a freight elevator. 

Officials in the governor’s office told the Argus Leader that the amount spent by Noem on mansion upgrades is roughly equal to that of past administrations and involved necessary renovations. But the Argus Leader pointed out that while mansion spending has remained steady, Noem’s personal spending has outpaced that of her predecessors. 

Separately, Noem has been under scrutiny for allegations of abuses of power related to her use of the state airplane as well as the circumstances surrounding the granting of a real estate appraiser license to her daughter. In late 2020, it was revealed that Noem was installing a $462,000 security fence around the residence. While the governor’s office claimed the cost of the fence had been “substantially” covered by private donations, it did not specify how much was paid for privately and how much with taxpayer dollars. 

Noem has recently faced criticism for other ethics concerns, which were referred to the Government Accountability Board by Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in late September and early October 2021. In addition to scrutiny over whether Noem used the state airplane to attend political events, the board has also been examining whether she used her position to interfere at the state agency in charge of approving her daughter’s appraiser license. After her daughter’s license application was rejected in July 2020, Noem called a meeting with the agency head, other officials, and her daughter; the license was later approved. Earlier this month, Noem’s daughter announced she would turn in her license at the end of the year; the next day, the board issued a subpoena compelling testimony from the agency head in charge of the licensing. The board is also investigating a third complaint that has not not been made public, and dismissed one complaint on Nov. 1, although it is not known which one.  

In light of reports that the governor had requested funds for a new executive branch airplane in February 2021, American Oversight filed a records request with Noem’s office and received documents containing a Department of Transportation memo that indicated the reason for new airplane purchases was primarily safety-related.