South Dakota governor's endorsement of dental practice draws scrutiny, lawsuit

Kristi Noem is being accused of "misleading" advertising.

March 14, 2024, 8:04 PM

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is facing scrutiny after posting a video on social media promoting the dental work she received from a practice in Texas, with a nonprofit claiming in a new lawsuit that she must have a secret "financial relationship" with the dentists.

Noem on Monday shared a nearly five-minute video on "X," formerly known as Twitter, boasting that she loves "her new family" at cosmetic dentist Smile Texas, based in Sugar Land. In her video, she lauds the practice, saying she has been looking to address some dental concerns after a bicycle accident.

"It means a lot to me that something as small as your smile really can change the world … it has been a gift to be here at Smile Texas," Noem says in the video.

The post -- shared by Noem on her personal X page and not through official government channels -- leaves some things unclear, including whether or not, as alleged in the lawsuit, Noem was compensated for the post or if she received her services at a discount or completely pro bono in exchange for the content, as is typical among social media influencers, often referred to as "sponcon," or sponsored content.

The consumer advocacy group Travelers United on Wednesday filed the suit against Noem in Washington, D.C., under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, accusing her of "misleading" and "deceptive" advertising, per the complaint reviewed by ABC News.

The group further claims that Noem has a "financial relationship" with the dental practice and did not disclose such an agreement.

South Dakota's Governor Kristi Noem arrives to speak during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting on Feb. 23, 2024, in National Harbor, Maryland.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

"Someone with a very busy job does not take time off of that job to make a free advertisement for medical services in another state," the suit states. "There are many dentists and cosmetic dentists in South Dakota. … Kristi Noem acted here as an influencer."

Both Noem's office and Smile Texas have not responded to ABC News' requests for comment. The owner of the practice said in a statement to a New York magazine reporter that medical privacy laws prevent them from commenting.

Lauren Wolfe, an attorney at Travelers United, issued a statement to ABC News saying, in part, "We believe consumers have a right to know when a post is an advertisement and when a post is an influencer's genuine thoughts. This is not just our belief, it is the law."

Noem's post has also piqued curiosity in her home state. According to the Associated Press, a South Dakota Democratic legislator, state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, called for an inquiry into Noem's trip and video.

"I just thought it was a very strange video about how much she enjoyed having her teeth done at that particular place," Nesiba said.

Separately, on Thursday, Noem posted on X to promote Fit My Feet, a shoe company in South Dakota that she said made custom insoles for her. The video is not labeled as sponsored or an ad.