June 21, 2024

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Governor Kristi Noem sued over video promoting dentists who fixed her teeth | South Dakota

The South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, a contender to be named Donald Trump’s presidential running mate, was sued over a video in which she promoted a cosmetic dentistry company showing off work on her own teeth.

Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group, filed suit in Washington DC on Wednesday, accusing Noem of “advertis[ing] a product or service without disclosing that she has a financial relationship with that company”.

The aim, the group said, was to “force” Noem to “make corrective disclosures on all social media posts where she promotes products or services”.

In the five-minute video, Noem says: “I’m the governor of South Dakota and had the opportunity to come to Smile Texas to fix my teeth, which has been absolutely amazing.”

Saying her teeth needed fixing after a biking accident, Noem says she consulted Smile Texas – a Houston company which advertises itself as “Official Dentist of the Miss Texas USA Pageant” – “several years ago … by Zoom” but could not find time for an appointment.

Having found the time, and singing the praises of Dr [Bret] Davis and Dr [Mackenzi McAfee-]Dooley, Noem says the company “finally gave me a smile I can be proud of and confident in” as she pursues her career in politics, “where everything is speaking and interviews and giving speeches.

“I want when people look at me to hear the words that I say and not be distracted by something that I’m wearing or how I look or even my appearance. I want them to focus on my thoughts and ideas and what we can do to really make this country better.

“So for me being able to have a confident smile and have my teeth be something that’s not a distraction, but actually is appealing to people will be helpful because I think that it’ll make sure that we’re focused on really the right points that I want to make and make sure that that confidence shines through. I love it.”

In its suit, Travelers United said: “Kristi Noem is the governor of South Dakota for a living but seems to have taken up work as a social media influencer as of 12 March 2024.

“Companies, like Smile Texas, pay influencers, like Kristi Noem, to promote their product or service to her followers … Sitting politicians do not typically work as part-time social media influencers.”

Residents of Washington DC, the suit said, could see Noem’s video on platforms such as X, Facebook, Instagram or Truth Social (owned by Trump), then fly to Texas for treatment.

Noem, it said, had made “no disclosure that this is an advertisement or that she received any free or discounted medical procedures in exchange for this social media advertisement”, which appeared to have been filmed at Smile Texas headquarters.

The suit also cited social media comments questioning why Noem was advertising a private company. Noem, the suit said, “is a smart woman who knew that laws apply to advertising disclosure on social media … but she never fixed any of her posts promoting Smile Texas.

“Travelers United would like to make clear this lawsuit is merely a lawsuit over the lack of advertising disclosure. Governor Kristi Noem has had many accomplishments in office and Travelers United hopes that after correcting her social media posts she continues to do her job of making her great state even better.”

The suit asks that Noem be enjoined “from advertising on social media without disclosing that she is advertising” and seeks statutory and punitive damages as well as payment of costs.

The Guardian contacted Noem for comment.