Zinke’s Leadership PAC Spending Should Raise Some Eyebrows

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While I considered writing tonight about the bold leadership Congressman Zinke offered today in his tepid non-endorsement of Donald Trump, a brief note in a Minnesota Post story intrigued me a bit more. In a story about how Senator Al Franken has become one of the most prolific fundraisers in Washington, there was a brief mention of our Congressman, whose Super PAC had the highest share of operating expenses of any of the big Congressional “Leadership PACs. From the Post:

Such high overhead isn’t uncommon for leadership PACs, but Midwest Values’ portion of operating expenditures — nearly 80 percent — is very high among top-performing PACs. Out of the top 10, only one, that of Montana GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, spent a higher share on operating expenses.

It’s not surprising. Zinke’s congressional account operates on the same model as did Ben Carson’s: an endless recycling of fundraising appeals that give the appearance that he’s raising an enormous war chest while most of the money goes back to the political operatives behind the scenes. Back in February, Mike Dennison described how Zinke’s campaign operation was spending money faster than he could raise it:

Last year, Zinke’s campaign spent $2.35 million of the $2.85 million he raised, showering money on a wide array of fundraising consultants, direct-mail outfits and valuable mass lists of fundraising targets. In fact, during the final quarter of 2015, Zinke reported spending slightly more money than he raised, with $604,000 of campaign spending compared to $601,000 coming in the door.

In January, the MT Cowgirl blog noted that Zinke’s burn rate was unprecedented and a terrible investment for donors:

At most, a candidate will usually spend around 20% of what they raise early on in a campaign. But not Zinke. Zinke has already pissed away 75% of the $2.7 million he raised. $2 million gone. In the business world that Republicans like to compare everything to, this burn rate would be considered a terrible investment.

For both his campaign and leadership PAC, Zinke is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on DC outfits like Direct Support Services and Consolidated Mailing Services, which basically function as a never-ending cycle, with most of the money Zinke raising going right back into more fundraising.

A deeper look at the FEC report shows that Zinke’s SEAL PAC has spent almost everything it’s received, largely on the same organizations and people that ran his “totally unaffiliated” Super PAC during the last election cycle. The big money recipients this time around include mailers for fundraisers and people like Scott Hommel, who went from running the above-mentioned “totally unaffiliated” Zinke Special Operations for America Super PAC to becoming Zinke’s chief of staff in Washington.

In typical fashion, Congressman Zinke is also personally taking a little gravy from the PAC. One expense it reports is almost $4800 to the Congressman for “hospitality expenses” for his 2016 primary campaign. It seems that just like during the heady days of his Special Operations for America Super PAC, while Zinke was claiming to raise money for veterans, the PAC offers a little chance for him to enjoy the finer things at the expense of donors.

Giving the aggressive fundraising that Zinke and the people he’s enriching in the Beltway are conducting, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself being hit up online and through direct mailers to fund his campaign, but it seems reasonable to ask whether or not pissing away money on fundraising consultants, Ryan Zinke, and his friends is truly the best way to spend your money.

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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.

10 Comments

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  • Despicable….
    When my wife raised almost $1 million during the 2014 campaign we were still eating (generic) Top Ramon and cheap cuts of meat we bought ourselves. It just seemed wrong to spend the campaign money, that hard working people contributed, on fancy stuff for ourselves. I think the campaign bought a total of one meal, some burgers in Missoula. After the election we were told it was common to use all leftover campaign cash for a vacation, there was some left over campaign cash and Amanda donated it to food banks.
    I guess that’s the difference in today’s Republicans and Democrats…Republican politicians like Zinke think greed is just fine and think they deserve all they can lay their hands on.

      • Bye the way these are the potential crimes that Hillary Clinton is under investigation for.

        18USC§201 Bribery
        18USC§208 Acts Effecting A Personal Financial Interest (Includes Recommendations)
        18USC§371 Conspiracy
        18USC§1001 False Statements
        18USC§1341 Frauds And Swindles (Mail Fraud)
        18USC§1343 Fraud By Wire
        18USC§1349 Attempt And Conspiracy (To Commit Fraud)
        18USC§1505 Obstruction Of Justice
        18USC§1519 Destruction (Alteration Or Falsification) Of Records In Federal Investigation
        18USC§1621 Perjury (Including Documents Signed Under Penalties Of Perjury)
        18USC§1905 Disclosure Of Confidential Information
        18USC§1924 Unauthorized Removal And Retention Of Classified Documents Or Material
        18USC§2071 Concealment (Removal Or Mutilation) Of Government Records
        18USC§7201 Attempt To Evade Or Defeat A Tax (Use Of Clinton Foundation Funds For Personal Or Political Purposes)
        18USC§7212 Attempts To Interfere With Administration Of Internal Revenue Laws (Call To IRS On Behalf Of UBS Not Turning Over Accounts To IRS)

        Any thing here as serious as your charges against Ryan? And yet if the choice arises you’ll support her at the polling booth.

        • Get your own blog, man.

          I guess you imagine this is some kind of effective response, to copy-paste right wing web sites about Hillary Clinton, but it’s not.

          Your argument is the intellectual equivalent of defending Charles Manson because “Charles Whitman killed more people,” except you don’t have any actual proof about Clinton’s guilt.

          Every nonsensical, right wing conspiracy idea you plagiarize from a conservative source could be true and it wouldn’t change a thing about Mr. Zinke.

          Comment on the articles. Muster an actual defense of Mr. Zinke. Why don’t you? I think the answer is obvious.

          • First of all Don you copied and pasted in the above post.

            Secondly in the big picture we’re talking about the overall integrity of a candidate to represent Montanans. Now you can complain about Zinke’s “burn rate” but does that rise to the financial hoodwinks transpiring in Clinton’s campaign. A contribution fund hidden up in Canada? Receiving donations from oppressive countries?

            MY defense is this, nothing Ryan has done even comes close to the Democratic front runner.

            • That your comments are sent to spam has nothing to do with me. I suspect there is a an element of filtering comments that are just copy-paste works from other sites.

              Either way, let’s not worry about it any more. There are more fruitful fields for you to comment upon elsewhere, I suspect.

            • Don’s just not capable of publicly exhibiting cognitive dissonance. But it is fun watching you make him squirm, nonetheless.

              • Yeah, the intellectual challenge of battling back content copy and pasted from Sean Hannity has been exhausting.

                Who could possibly imagine they could handle that kind of debate?

    • Kevin, for me, that’s the most important comment I have ever read from you!
      More important to me than hearing/reading that Senator Sanders may be planning to visit Montana.

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