Special Operations for America: Coordinating with Ryan Zinke?

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No one outside of the small group who believes that wider sidewalks are part of a UN conspiracy believes the claims that Montana congressional candidate Ryan Zinke isn’t coordinating with the Special Operations for America Super PAC he led until days before his congressional bid was announced, but coordination between PACs and candidates is difficult to prove. The real evidence of coordination here is Zinke’s relationship with the Super PAC, the fact that it’s not spending any energy on the other candidates it claims to support, and that it’s still located right next to Zinke’s address.

Coordination between candidates and Super PACS is explicitly illegal under campaign finance laws, with specific prohibitions against candidates communicating with the Super PAC.

Kalispell’s Scott Wilson Photography posted a series of images on Facebook of the Zinke family, part of a series of “campaign photos” that later involved the whole family. It’s a lovely set of shots.

zinkephotos1

The second photo from the right shows the family gathered together and another was so nice the Zinke campaign posted it on Twitter just yesterday:

1509230_566164543472673_1319453925_nBeMm8ooCEAAflJ9

The first is a lovely family photo—one that’s so nice Special Operations for America featured it in both of the ads they’ve released on behalf of the candidate:

image

It’s possible that Special Operations for America lifted a low-resolution image from Facebook and turned it into a high-resolution photograph good enough for television and it’s possible they’re violating Scott Wilson’s copyright on the photograph and using it without his permission.

Or it’s just a bit more likely that candidate Zinke gave his Super PAC a nice, camera-ready image he liked so much he’s using it for his family, his Congressional campaign, and for his totally-unaffiliated Super PAC’s use.

In the scheme of the likely violations of campaign finance laws being committed by Zinke and Special Operations for America, this is small potatoes—but a pretty clear indication of coordination.

Update: James raises some fair points in the comments below. It’s certainly possible that an outfit like SOFA would lift an image without permission for their ad, too. In either case, it demonstrates the total absurdity of campaign finance in the wake of Citizens United. It’s illegal for a candidate to coordinate directly with a Super PAC, but permissible to post images, text, and video they just happen to use in their ads? It’s a totally broken system.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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SusanConcerned CitizenKelly CrawfordLarry Kralj, Environmental RangersMoorcat (K Kailey) Recent comment authors
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Craig Moore
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Craig Moore

“It’s possible”…blah, blah, blah.

Why not ask Scott Wilson?
Phone (406) 890-5688
Email [email protected]

Norma Duffy
Guest

Firewall Craig: barrier, detachment, disconnection, disunion. Obviously no separation if they Continue to use Zinke as a Poster child.

Dons right!!!

Greg Strandberg
Guest

Boy, lot’s of fluff, little of consequence. Nice advert for Zinke though.

James Conner
Guest

Interesting discoveries. Some observations: (1) The images on Scott Wilson’s Facebook page are large enough to use in a video ad without any loss of quality. (2) Zinke may have an agreement with Wilson for campaign and editorial use of low resolution copies of some or all of the photos. (3) How did the superpac learn about the photos? If Zinke sent out hundreds or thousands of the photos, bearing Wilson’s copyright notice, to friends, donors, etc., the existence of the photos, and where to get them, could have been transmitted to the superpac without direct contact from, or knowledge… Read more »

Pogie
Guest

I think the race for the Republicans is all about raising enough money to win the primary. Once one does that, he’ll get all the PAC money he needs to be competitive. Of the candidates, the only one seeming to get any real traction is Zinke, despite the first poll showing him way behind.

If Montana Republicans know Zinke’s relatively moderate record, there’s no way he wins the primary. It just doesn’t seem like his opponents are doing much to highlight that.

James Conner
Guest

I think the only way a relatively moderate Republican (a null class?) wins a primary is if a number of other candidate split the conservative vote. Just over 20 percent of the vote might be enough to win.

Pogie
Guest

I think that’s why Zinke and SOFA are spending so much money on ads that say nothing other than that he loves America and despises President Obama. His record on abortion, guns, education, and the like makes Zinke someone a lot of Republicans simply won’t be able to vote for.

My guess is that Zinke hopes to win the primary by saying nothing of substance and then presenting himself as a conservative-moderate candidate in the general.

The other GOP candidates seem to be spinning their wheels, though, campaigning mostly on Facebook.

Pogie
Guest

Good points on the photos, James.

One thing (that I should change in the original post: it wasn’t from Facebook, unless SOFA has the fastest media team in the US. Wilson posted the photos on January 6 and SOFA posted their ad on Jan 8.

James Conner
Guest

It only takes a couple of hours to put together a short video ad.

Pogie
Guest

I would guess it takes a bit more time than that to run TV spots, which these are.

James Conner
Guest

I have some experience here. With modern video editing software, it doesn’t take long to put together a 30 or 60 second video, especially if most of the material is already in the can. TV newscasts do it all the time. If the airtime is already under contract, the content can be put together and transmitted to the broadcaster very quickly. This is why campaigns can respond so quickly to attacks or events.

Kelly Crawford
Guest
Kelly Crawford

But why would SOFA even BE on Scott Wilson’s FB page. How would they even know??? C’mon

Ingemar Johannson
Guest
Ingemar Johannson

Great find.

I’m thinking we should call it “Family Picturegate”.

Pogie
Guest

Or Coordination So Obvious Even Republicans Should Be Able to See it Gate.

I think mine has a better ring to it.

Ingemar Johannson
Guest
Ingemar Johannson

I liked your earlier description.

“Trivial”.

David Parker
Guest
David Parker

Coordination without violating campaign finance regulations is super easy in the Age of Twitter, FB, and 501 shops that set up as oppo groups.

Moorcat (K Kailey)
Guest

While I think it is a foregone conclusion that Zinke’s Pac is working for Zinke, I also think that – as other commenters have said already, it is almost impossible to prove. The Montana Political Practices Dept has a hard time acting on complaints that aren’t hard to prove – I doubt that this one will get much actual traction with them. I do see your point, about Zinke being a potential frontrunner, but he has – so far – failed to pick up the more mature Conservative electorate and Stapleton has the Conservative youth electorate pretty much sewn up.… Read more »

Norma Duffy
Guest

Its not hard to prove, with enough funds. Most political Practice offices are limited by funding, which is exactly what Politicians want. Thats why they continually short change these kind of offices. In this case it doesn’t matter what side of the partisan divide your on.

Even though the democrats are no way equivalent to the republicans misbehaving, for some reason absolutely unknown to us all… they are afraid themselves of scrutiny and investigation.

When you wont use Robber Baron laws to protect the people of the state, it makes you as guilty as the Robber Barons themselves.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Norma Duffy
Guest

Its not even close to the end of January yet…. and a lot can happen in 11 plus months.

Kelly Crawford
Guest
Kelly Crawford

As Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center said in Mother Jones’s November article on Zinke and SOFA, he has them on his radar now and will be watching them closely. All he has to do is supboena his original copy of the photos and it’ll be done. We all know where SOFA got them, I mean SOFA posted them before Zinke did. Why would SOFA, run by Zinke’s close friends, former navy seal Stubblefield, and Scott Hommel, need to steal them? How would they even know they existed? Come on. Sure, maybe this violation in and… Read more »

Concerned Citizen
Guest
Concerned Citizen

I’ve been following your posts about Zinke. A quick glance and competence with the scroll button showed me that Zinke posted every family picture you show that SOFA has used on his personal facebook on 12/31/13. They didn’t have a copyright notice, but any campaign photos should, if they have a proper media consultant, come with editorial licensee so they can be released to the press. FYI

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