House Moves to Bar Private Funding of National Guard Missions

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Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard at the Rio Grande River
Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard observe a section of the Rio Grande River at sunset, September 11, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger)

The House Armed Services Committee wants to bar private citizens from bankrolling National Guard missions.

As part of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization legislation it passed early Thursday, the committee included an amendment from Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, that would prohibit Guard troops from taking part in interstate deployments when the mission is paid for by private funds.

The issue of private funding of National Guard missions became a public controversy this summer, after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, announced that about 50 Guardsmen were deploying to the southern U.S. border. The Willis and Reba Johnson's Foundation, a private trust in Tennessee, provided $1 million to South Dakota to cover the cost of a deployment of up to two months' duration. Willis Johnson is a billionaire who has donated heavily to conservative causes.

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Noem's office pointed to state laws covering gifts to the governor and state to make the case that the donation was legal. But Democrats in South Dakota soon began investigating and questioned whether the laws Noem cited actually applied.

Escobar said that allowing missions to be funded through private donations opens the Guard to being used for political purposes.

"I don't believe that our National Guard should be up for auction, or up for sale," she said.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., objected to the amendment, calling the suggestion the Guard is up for sale an "absolutely ridiculous accusation."

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., also raised concerns that the amendment could limit governors' authority and ability to manage their National Guard units.

Escobar's amendment carves out an exception for deployments that are a response to major declared disasters or emergencies. But during the hearing, she made it clear that private donations should be used only as a last resort, if there were no other resources available to fund a necessary deployment.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Democrats Raise Ethical Concerns Over GOP Donor's $1 Million Funding of Border Deployment

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