What is Willis Johnson’s net worth? GOP megadonor funds SD National Guard to Texas
Johnson announces he will bankroll deployment of South Dakota National Guard to southern border after Gov Kristi Noem answers Texas' plea for help
On June 30, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced she would be sending 50 troops to help secure the Southern border. Now, we've learned that the deployment won't be funded entirely by taxpayers. It is in part, getting funded by a GOP megadonor Willis Johnson. The Tennessee-based businessman will reportedly donate an undisclosed amount, that will be used to fund the deployment.
Republicans have widely declared the situation at the Southern border to be a "crisis", and attacked the Biden administration for not doing enough. On March 11, the GOP dubbed the situation 'Biden's Border Crisis', believing it is their ticket to winning back the House and Senate in 2022. The situation has turned into a political football, with Democrats like Nancy Pelosi blaming Trump for the situation. In the meantime, Republicans have used Covid-19 to shore up fear about immigrants, worsening an already terrible situation.
As more migrants arrive, Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to take matters into his own hands. He called for help from his fellow Republicans to increase security at the border and has already received a positive response. South Dakota will join Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, and Iowa in sending law enforcement to help. Doing so is not cheap, which is why GOP donors are stepping up to the plate. The latest to do so in Johnson, who confirmed he will pay for South Dakota's troops.
What is Willis Johnson's net worth?
The founder of Dallas-based used-car auction site Copart, Johnson is a well-known GOP megadonor. According to Forbes, his net worth (as of June 30, 2021) is $2.2 billion. The 74-year-old currently lives in Franklin, Tennessee, and is ranked as the 1750th richest billionaire in the world. A Vietnam war veteran, Johnson stepped down as the CEO of Copart in 2010. Most of his wealth comes from the 7% of stock he still owns in the company, and numerous other investments.
Johnson currently serves as the chairman of Copart's board. That role nets him around $617,375, according to Wallmine. The billionaire isn't shy about his earnings either, having dropped $28 million to purchase Alan Jackson's 18,600-square-foot home in 2010. He also reportedly owns around 120 classic and muscle cars as well, along with an 80-acre vineyard in Napa Valley. No wonder then he said, "I am really, really rich. Kind of like Trump," in a 2016 interview.
It should come as little surprise then, that Johnson is an avid donor, especially to the Republican Party and conservative causes. In 2018, his foundation donated $1.15 million to a Tennessee Baptist church, $10,000 to Christian group Hope Smiles, and $25,000 to the National Rifle Association. He has also routinely bankrolled the GOP. In 2020, he donated $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee. In all, he splashed over $350,000 on Trump's re-election efforts, and nearly $180,000 to the Republican National Committee in the past two years.
So why did a Tennessee-based businessman fund South Dakota's effort to help Texas? When The Daily Beast asked Johnson, he replied, "It’s helping America is what it is."
Johnson wants to 'help out'
Johnson did not disclose how much he was donating to South Dakota, nor did Noem's government confirm the amount it has received. Around 50 members of the Guard will be deployed for 30-60 days, which is a heavy bill to foot. The moment Noem made that announcement, Johnson reached out to help fund the deployment. "I thought, you got two big states in it, now you got a smaller state doing it, I thought I might as well help out. So I gave her a call," he told the Beast.
In an interview with POLITICO, Johnson said, "I believe in her state and Texas." According to the Beast, Johnson wanted to make the donation anonymously but was warned by Noem's office that it would be unlawful. Nonetheless, the donation has raised some eyebrows. Under IRS rules, charities (which is what Johnson's foundation is listed as) cannot donate directly to political causes. Others are also concerned that Noem is up for reelection in 2022. According to the Weatherford Democrat, state Sen. Reynold Nesiba has raised concerns that donation could be illegal. Nesiba believes Johnson's donation gives Noem "political cover". "This could set a dangerous precedent to allow anonymous political donors to call the governor and dispatch the Guard whenever they want," Nesiba told the publication.
However, Johnson and Noem are undaunted. The Governor's office told POLITICO that using private funds was legal and that it was going ahead with the deployment, on Johnson's dime. It's unclear as of now if she will face any legal action in the future, but it is possible.