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.