During the 2016 campaign, Congressman Zinke has landed on a new talking point to justify his frequent appearances on national news and his relative absence from the state. He’s repeatedly (and wrongly) argued that California has fifty-five Congressmen to the one from Montana as an explanation for the fact that he seems to be more interested in raising his national profile than in representing the people of our state.
The talking point merits more consideration than the the typical talking point, though, because it may betray a truth: with Ryan Zinke in office, California may just have an extra representative, one who should be representing Montana. The available evidence calls into serious question whether Congressman Zinke even lives here in Montana any more.
Does Zinke Live in Montana?
The truth is that there is a fair amount of evidence that Congressman Zinke doesn’t live here in Montana.
In July 2016, a Montana reporter asked if it would be possible to film Zinke in his Whitefish home, and was told that Zinke no longer has a residence in Whitefish. I don’t understand how someone can claim to live in Montana without a place of residence here, especially given that the Congress seems to work less than 150 days a year.
On his FEC filings, Congressman Zinke lists his Montana residence as 409 West Second Street in Whitefish, the same address he listed during his time in the Montana Legislature. After years of struggle with the Whitefish City Council, the address at 409 West Second Street was approved for use as a bed and breakfast named the Snowfrog Inn, which has a web page saying that it will be “opening soon.” The address is still 409 West Second Street.
The Snowfrog Inn never seems to have become any kind of business. Its web site has never removed its “Coming Soon” notice and repeated efforts to book a room were met with no answer via e-mail or phone.
In fact, neither Congressman Zinke nor his wife own any property in their names in Montana. In financial disclosure documents, the Zinkes list rental properties in Whitefish, all owned by Continental Divide International, a company Zinke seems to use interchangeably for rental and other sources of income. The property has changed hands between the Zinkes and Continental Divide International five times since 2009, with the last transfer occurring in 2013 when it revered to CDI.
Even his behavior in the past few weeks suggests someone who simply doesn’t live in Montana. While state and federal candidates have long used the homecoming parades in at MSU and UM as opportunities to reach out to voters, Congressman Zinke was wasn’t present at either event, instead preferring to remain in Washington to appear as a surrogate for Donald Trump in the national media.
If the Congressman and his family live here in the state, it’s definitely not clear where that could be.
So where does he live? The evidence suggests that it could very well be Santa Barbara, California.
On July 20, the Santa Barbara Independent reported that Congressman Zinke held a fundraiser in his home for a GOP Congressional candidate. Here’s how they described it:
Zinke is married to Lolita Hand, who grew up in Santa Barbara and now resides part-time in Hope Ranch. Zinke allowed Republican congressional candidate Justin Fareed — now facing off against Democrat Salud Carbajal — to use his home for a campaign fundraiser earlier this year.
While the Independent changed the headline on that story, their Facebook page retains the original headline “Part-Time Hope Ranch resident Ryan Zinke Speaks at RNC.” The original headline is on the left, and the changed one appears on the right.
Even the existence of the story itself is bizarre. While it would make sense for Congressman Zinke to get attention in the Daily Interlake, why would the Santa Barbara Independent run a story about a Congressman from Montana speaking at the RNC? That only makes sense for a local congressman, or one, as the story still notes in its URL, a “part-time resident.”
And it’s not just the local media who describe Zinke’s place of residence as Santa Barbara. In the release for the March fundraiser, those invited were told that the event would be held at the home of Lola and Congressman Ryan Zinke.
It seems, having gotten away with it in 2014, Zinke has become more brazen about his place of residence. Back in that campaign, you might remember, the Montana media did ask why his campaign signs were appearing in Santa Barbara. The Zinke campaign brushed off concerns then, noting that the Congressman’s family was in Santa Barbara only temporarily because of a family health issue.
In August, the Congressman’s wife, after attending a Trump Hispanic Advisory Council, identified herself as a San Diego lawyer. Univision described her as “the daughter of a Peruvian, is a San Diego lawyer familiar with illegal immigration issues.”
This life as a Californian isn’t a recent development for Congressman Zinke, who was listing his address as 735 State Street in Santa Barbara, California on an SEC filing in 2013, when he reported stocks received when he became a director at Save the World Air, an oil company.
Independent media, Republican fundraisers, and the words of his own wife, combined with the absence of a place to live here in Montana at least raise serious questions about just where Congressman Zinke lives and, more importantly, just who he represents.
Congressman Zinke, who collected 71% of his campaign donations from outside of Montana during the 2014 election, and who has, so far collected 89% of them from outside the state during the 2016 campaign, is certainly beholden to out-of-state interests. Now the real question is whether or not he is just another of those out-of-state special interests himself.