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Only on AP: South Dakota’s Noem may have pressured state official on behalf of daughter

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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Sioux Falls reporter Stephen Groves broke news that raised a major ethics question for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who is expected to be a U.S. presidential candidate in 2024. Working with a tip from a South Dakota source, Groves’ persistent reporting over a period of months produced an exclusive on Noem, who appeared to wield her position to benefit a family member.

The tip to Groves said that a longtime South Dakota state employee was going to enter a settlement agreement with the state after an issue involving Noem and her daughter, who was being denied a license as a real estate appraiser. He learned that the state employee had left her position after signing a $200,000 settlement agreement with the state that required her to withdraw an age discrimination complaint and agree not to disparage state officials.

That piqued Groves’ interest and started him on a monthslong effort to obtain state and federal records as well as other documents regarding a July 2020 meeting in the governor’s office involving Noem, her daughter Kassidy Peters and the head of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program.

Though most of Groves’ records requests were denied and the non-disparagement agreement restricted what the certification official could say, Groves was able to report that a letter about Peters’ application denial was handed to that state employee at the meeting. Four months after the meeting Noem’s daughter received her license and the state demanded the retirement of the certification official. Ethics experts contacted by AP called the meeting a clear conflict of interest for Noem.

Groves’ story made an immediate impact,racking up nearly 250,000 page views on AP platforms. National outlets including The Washington Post used it,and it led South Dakota’s biggest newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The state attorney general and state legislators said they would look into the meeting; the matter is being referred to a panel of South Dakota judges for review. “Nice job,” said the top editor of South Dakota Public Broadcasting,while a prominent conservative columnist in North Dakota called for Noem to resign.

For resourceful state-level accountability journalism with national implications, Groves is AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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