Buy Ryan Zinke an RV with Your Campaign Donations!

There’s little doubt that Ryan Zinke has been involved in some shady fundraising in political campaigns, but it appears he has taken that selfishness to a new level with the purchase of a $60,000 RV for his campaign. Derek Willis at ProPublica notes that the Congressman’s latest report includes the absurd expenditure.

Two items on his latest campaign expenditures show that the Zinke for Congress campaign spend $51,9000 and $7,2000 to purchase what is variously described as a “campaign vehicle purchase” and the “remainder of the RV balance. The two payments came on April 7 and May 18, 2016.

Confusingly, the payee on each line is not an actual RV dealer, but the Congressman’s wife, Lolita Zinke. The $51,900 expenditure is the largest single expense in his entire campaign. What’s unclear right now is whether or not this is the same RV he was traveling around in during the 2014 campaign, but I will keep digging. My guess (unsubstantiated at the moment) is that Zinke is paying himself full market value for his own RV, the one he used in the last campaign.

It’s also worth asking whether the vehicle is registered in Montana.

Back in 2010, Politico wrote about another member of Congress, Eric Massa, who purchased a $32,000 vehicle for himself with campaign donations. At the time, a former FEC attorney described the problematic nature of an expenditure like that:

Even in normal circumstances, purchasing a car with campaign funds is “vexing and nettlesome,” Gross said. Accounting procedures are cumbersome, because the lawmaker might use the car for several purposes, including for campaign travel, government travel and personal use.

The FEC in 2001 ruled that Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) could purchase an automobile with campaign funds, as long as he kept a mileage log parsing out personal use and campaign use.

Zinke has a history, both in the Navy and as the leader of a SuperPAC, of mixing up funds that are for official and personal business. He’s never fully disclosed the nature of the discipline he received for improperly spending travel funds as a SEAL, and his actions at his SuperPAC were so shady that fellow Republican Rick Hill called him out for it, writing:

However, what concerns me about this solicitation is its legality. Using an independent PAC to solicit funds for a federal candidate is highly questionable.

While at his Special Operations for America SuperPAC, Zinke funneled $26,000 to himself and thousands more to friends, despite saying that he would not take a cent from the donations. His use of SOFA as a personal piggy bank was called out by Congressman Hill again, who wrote:

Zinke needs to make public the financial records of Continental Divide International. We need to know if he had used it to improperly funnel money from SOFA and other entities for personal gain.

The median household income in Montana is $44,222, or about 2/3 the cost of the RV that Ryan Zinke is collecting campaign donations for. Given that Mr. Zinke makes $174,000 a year on his Congressional salary, it’s unseemly at best and criminal at worst to shake down elderly voters with inflated TERROR alerts about Syrian children instead of purchasing a toy for himself with his own salary. I eagerly look forward to the next report, which will likely include a line item for “sick cammo paint job” at a few thousand bucks.

You might ask your Republican friends if it’s reasonable to ask whether or not donations, many of which get funneled to Ryan Zinke’s friends back home and cronies in Washington, and now go for the purchase of an RV from his wife, are really in the best interest of Montana or are just in the best interest of Ryan Zinke, who has turned self-promotion into not just an art form, but a moneymaker.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • Athletes Foot is easily treatable. First wash your feet every morning with anti fungal soap. Dry them and apply anti fungal powder. Both these products are available at your local drug store. Wear freshly laundered socks every day. Having grown up with three brothers I know these things. Mum was tyrannical about this. None of us liked living around stinky feet.

  • He parks that bad boy in his renters yard across the street from his house on West 2nd St. in Whitefish. I’ll check the tags next time I see it…

  • You guys are pathetic. What have you done for Montana? What have you proposed to better Montana? Zinke bashing with no evidence to support. I don’t see any charges brought forth. What has your team made in donations. Perhaps they are to busy bashing and not providing solutions and pandering to those that expect entitlements. Be careful he may buy a second RV with the proceeds from a liable lawsuit.

    • Does teaching for sixteen years count? I’d argue that’s something for Montana.

      There’s always evidence for my bashing of Mr. Zinke. He makes it easy.

      I’m not too worried about a “liable” lawsuit.

  • Mr. Zinke, has 22 years as a U.S. Navy Seal retiring with the rank of a Commander and the Dean of the Naval Special Warfare Graduate School .

    I really don’t know either one of two. Who’s credibility and judgement would you support.

    I don’t like all the bashing.

    In the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, commander (abbreviated “CDR”) is a mid-grade officer rank, with the pay grade of O-5. Commander ranks above lieutenant commander (O-4) and below captain (O-6). Commander is equivalent to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the other uniformed services.[2] Notably, it is the first rank at which the holder wears an embellished cap, whereas officers of the other services are entitled to embellishment at O-4 rank. Promotion to commander in the US Navy is governed by Department of Defense policies derived from the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) of 1980 or its companion Reserve Officer Personnel Management Act (ROPMA). DOPMA/ROPMA guidelines suggest that 70% of lieutenant commanders should be promoted to commander after serving a minimum of three years at their present rank and after attaining 15-17 years of cumulative commissioned service, although this percentage may vary and be appreciably less for certain officer designators (i.e., primary “specialties”) dependent on defense budgets, force structure and needs of the service.

    A commander in the U.S. Navy may command a frigate, destroyer, submarine, aviation squadron or small shore activity, or may serve on a staff afloat or ashore (typically as an action officer or as an executive officer to a flag officer or general officer), or a larger vessel afloat (as either a department head or executive officer). An officer in the rank of commander who commands a vessel may also be referred to as “captain” as a courtesy title, or informally referred to as “skipper”. Commanding officers of aviation squadrons and shore activities may also be informally referred to as “skipper” but never as “captain.”[3]

    • “Skipper.” I like that, Bill. Reminds me of Gilligan’s Island. Of course, if Zinke ends up as VP, that would make Trump the “Skipper” and Zinke would be Gilligan.

  • Also please advise Greg as he is checking out the bad boys tags he does not inadvertently surprise Mr. Zinke. He may inadvertently end up with some broken bones. Remember Mr. Zinke use to run down the beach carrying logs among other things.

    • It sure is nice having all that knowledge at your fingertips. And I must admit, Wiki does allow one to appear smarter than they really are. That said… your knowledge of Naval rank far surpasses mine. All I know know is that I was raised by a Navy Commander, yes…CDR. , and an Army MASH nurse who held the rank of Major. My father served in Korea and VietNam, received a Presidential Unit Citation for his squadron, and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained while there. The one thing I learned from my parents is… you don’t talk about your missions until they are declassified, and you don’t brag about your accomplishments. To talk about a mission before it declassified is the same as showing your hole card. It endangers future missions and the soldiers that are tasked with the job. Mr. Zinke has done both. My father never talked of his mission in VietNam, not even to his wife for thirty years. It was at that point he did talk about it, to get benefits for his men, and to lobby for an extraction team to recover the remains of the crews that died in two crashes. He has said that Mr.Zinke doesn’t have integrity. I wouldn’t know, I never served. But he did, and I trust his opinion. As for you sir, looking at someones license plate while the vehicle is parked on the street is not trespassing, and a relatively easy thing to do. Even you could probably do it if you got off that high horse you are on…

  • The bad boy is what I called the RV. But since you brought it up, I am really impressed by your knowledge of rank in the Navy. Sure is nice to have Wiki at your fingertips, isn’t it? My knowledge compared to yours is so lacking, considering the fact that I was raised by a Navy Commander, and an Army Mash nurse who held the rank of Major. My father, an officer of 30 years served in two wars, received a Presidential Unit Citation for his work flying in VietNam, and a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained while there. Growing up with two officers, I learned one thing. You don’t talk about your missions until they are declassified, and you don’t brag about what you have done. In fact, he didn’t even tell his wife what he did there for thirty years, when it was declassified. What does this have to do with me looking at his license plate when that bad boy is parked on the street? Absolutely nothing. In fact, you sir could probably see that same plate if the horse you are riding wasn’t so high. Point is… other people know things too. Knowing it all, you should know that too.

  • Greg, sounds like a great person but this was for the purpose of the average reader so they would not mistake a CDR for a E3. I am just tired of the bashing, speculation. hearsay, rumor mongering, etc. Very unprofessional. Just the facts please. So Mr. Zinke tells war stories, BFD, have you ever been in the O Club or the VFW. They/we earned it. I have yet to see a commercial of what Steve Bullock is going to do for the state. Just PAC bashing. FYI, 6 yrs USN Flattops.

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