Noem campaign returns Florida millionaire’s contribution
Governor Kristi Noem’s re-election campaign has returned $980 to a Florida millionaire originally reported as coming from a nonprofit – which is not permitted to make political contributions.
The campaign updated the source when the donor said it was actually her, not her charity, who made the donation. The campaign then returned the contribution since the correction pushed the woman’s total contributions above the state’s legal limit.
All of these actions followed inquiries from SDPB News about it.
The contributions involve Jackie and David Siegel, a Florida millionaire couple who rose to fame after a 2012 documentary, ‘The Queen of Versailles,’ chronicling their quest to build one of the largest mansions in the United States during the Great Recession. .
Donations also involve Victoria’s Voice Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization founded by the couple. The non-profit organization is dedicated to drug addiction prevention and is named after their daughter, who died of a drug overdose in 2015.
South Dakota State plans to use the foundation’s curriculum. The program is free, but public records show the state has a $10,500 contract with a Vermillion company to customize materials for South Dakota teens.
But South Dakota law allows Noem’s campaign to accept such donations, according to the campaign, an attorney and the secretary of state’s office.
“It’s perfectly permissible for them to have accepted it,” said Sara Frankenstein, a Rapid City attorney who specializes in federal and state election laws.
Frankenstein, the campaign, and the secretary of state’s office have all pointed to state laws that say “entities” can contribute to candidatesand not-for-profit organizations are included in the definition of “entities”.
However, a professor who specializes in election law says state campaigns should reject such donations on an ethical basis.
“Their legal counsel should know better and say this is money from an organization that cannot make these contributions under federal law,” said David Schultz, who teaches at Hamline University and at the University of Minnesota.
SDPB News contacted the campaign and the foundation after noticing Victoria’s Voice Foundation had donated $980 in trips to Kristi for the Governor’s Reelection Committee – Noem.
The donation was reported in the committee Year-end report 2021which was released last week.
The report shows that Jackie and David Siegel donated $4,000 and $3,605 in restoration, respectively.
The foundation and committee declined to share the date of the donations or other travel and restoration details.
But the foundation’s donation would have been made between December 31, 2020 – when the previous campaign funding form was due – and November 2021.
Joe Desilets, Noem’s campaign manager, said the donation arrived before he joined the team in November 2021.
David Siegel, the founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, had a net worth of $940 million in 2016, according to Forbes. Jackie, who has a degree in computer engineering, is involved in business, philanthropy and beauty pageants.
The couple and their company are Republican donors.
David Siegel’s contributions include $35,000 to former President Donald Trump and $29,400 to the Republican National Committee in 2019.
Recent campaign finance reports show no contributions from the couple to Noem’s federal political action committees.
Victoria’s Voice offers a substance abuse prevention program for teens, educates students and the media about substance abuse, works on drug policy reform and ensures first responders are supplied with Narcan – a drug which treats opioid overdoses – according to the foundation’s website.
Its partners include the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Wells Fargo and PepsiCo.
Victoria’s Voice Foundation said it had never donated to Noem’s committee.
“David and Jacqueline Siegel are friends and proud contributors to Governor Kristi Noem and her tireless advocacy to keep children off drugs and end the national opioid epidemic,” a spokesperson said in an email. mail. “Victoria’s Voice Foundation has made no contribution to Governor Kristi Noem’s political campaign and any information to the contrary is an error not committed by any Foundation staff.”
But the Noem campaign said the foundation made a donation – by accident.
Desilets said the committee received and accepted the in-kind contribution from the foundation because it is legal to do so under state law.
But he said the campaign received a corrected form on Wednesday that said the contribution was supposed to come from Jackie Siegel, not the foundation.
The campaign said it would edit its report to update the source of the donation.
It also returns the donation as it puts Jackie Siegel over the contribution limit. South Dakota law states that individuals and entities can only contribute $4,000 per candidate each calendar year.
Desilets said the campaign will also update the report to note the refund.
SDPB asked the foundation and the committee to share the documents related to the donation.
Victoria’s Voice Foundation did not respond, and Desilets said it was campaign policy to only share donations that must be disclosed under state law.
Schultz, the election law professor, said the foundation and committee should provide the documents to be transparent.
“You have the campaign registering it as a fundamental thing. Now they’re saying, ‘Oh, we made a mistake on that. Now we will remove it. And now there’s a problem with too much input,” he said. “I don’t know, if I’m the average reader, I look at it from the outside saying something seems incredibly fishy about it in terms of good, who’s telling the truth or who’s not telling the truth, and the campaign doesn’t fix it until a reporter talks to it.”
Frankenstein said there were no legal or ethical issues, and the Noem campaign responded appropriately.
“The campaign doesn’t have to look out for the best interests of the various entities that give them money. It’s not the campaign’s job to make sure that all the different organizations around the world abide by their own laws in their best interest,” she said. . “But here you can see that Governor Noem’s campaign is obviously helpful to this tax-exempt organization and allows him to change the donation or contribution from that 501(c)(3) to that of an individual.”
Desilets said the campaign will not accept such donations in the future.
“I would be shocked if we ended up in this situation,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to monitor and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
State using foundation materials
The Governor and members of the Siegel family have attended several events together.
The couple and the governor were at a Nov. 26, 2021, event in Las Vegas where former Trump and Noem adviser Corey Lewandowski allegedly sexually harassed a Trump donor.
According to media reports, the incident happened during a fundraising dinner for Victoria’s Voice at a Benihana restaurant inside one of the Siegels’ Westgate hotels.
Jackie Siegel also visited Noem in December 2020.
Siegel posted an Instagram photo with Noem inside Siegel’s private jet and said the couple met to discuss how the Victoria’s Voice Foundation could help in South Dakota.
A December 2021 contract shows the state Department of Education paying a Vermillion firm, Sage Project Consulting, up to $10,500 to customize a series of Victoria’s Voice Foundation videos.
The department told the SDPB that it is partnering with the Department of Social Services on the project.
“Students, like others, have faced challenges throughout the pandemic, and our work with Sage Project Consulting will ultimately result in a series of substance abuse prevention related videos designed specifically for young people. of South Dakota,” the DOE said in an email. “Sage helps us assess and modify the resources available from Victoria’s Voice, a non-profit organization working to prevent addiction and save lives from overdose.”
Schultz said ethical issues arise from the mix of personal relationships, campaign contributions and the new program.
“At the very least, we can now raise the issue and say, ‘OK, why did they give this contribution and why did we distribute these materials statewide?’ he said. “Even if it’s not a real conflict of interest or a real impropriety, it raises the appearance of it and it raises the ethical question.”
Desilets rejected this characterization.
“I mean, I think it’s the most absurd thing in the world,” Desilets said. “The governor also drives a vehicle and we accept money from car dealerships.”
Desilets said Victoria’s Voice Foundation does not benefit directly from the state’s use of its program because it is a not-for-profit organization that provides its material free of charge.