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.