The web of failed business and shell companies created by Ryan Zinke between his return from service and his election to the House of Representatives is something that has never been fully explored by the local press. The absence of clarity on his financial transactions never seemed to harm Zinke when he was running for office here, but now that he’s become Secretary of the Interior, watchdogs are digging into his financials—and finding, in the words of one, transactions “impermissible in a reasonable world. But this is an unreasonable world.”
E&E News, which has done an excellent job of covering the Secretary, notes that 2 1/2 months after being sworn in at Interior, Zinke has not completely removed himself from the leadership of Continental Divide International, Double Tap LLC, or the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation as he said he would when he signed ethics documents.
Uncovering exactly what the first two businesses actually do would require some real digging, as both, like Zinke’s residential property in Whitefish, seem to shift purpose regularly. According to E&E, both were originally formed as part of hospitality ventures, but have morphed into what Zinke calls “residential rental property LLCs.”
Double Tap is an odd case. Formed for Zinke’s failed effort to start a microbrewery, Zinke reported that the business produced an income of between $5,000 and $15,000 last year even though it was shut down by the Montana Secretary of State’s office for failure to submit fees and paperwork.
Continental Divide International/CDI
E&E reports that CDI made almost $45,000 from Zinke’s Special Operations for America Super PAC between July 2012 and September 2013, including a payment of $2,500 to Zinke’s adult daughter, who is a managing member of CDI.
Zinke also repeatedly denied taking “a dime” from Special Operations for America, but told the House in his financial disclosure report that he took $6,500. It’s unclear if that was part of the $45,000 or not.
That’s a story we’ve been following since 2013, and Zinke has never provided any kind of satisfactory answer.
Montana Firearms Institute
National reporters may also want to look into Zinke’s Montana Firearms Institute, another entity that managed to pay him money despite seeming not to really exist. Though it never existed on the web, Facebook, social media, or anywhere other than Ryan Zinke’s resume, the organization, designed to insulate Zinke from criticism of his Second Amendment record and co-founded by the first treasurer of Special Operations for America, managed to pay Zinke $6,725 in 2011.
What About Neil Livingstone?
One item that has always struck me as odd is that Zinke reporting in his House financial disclosure that he took compensation of over $5,000 from Neil Livingstone in 2012-13, the year Zinke ran with Livingtstone for Governor and Lt. Governor of Montana.
I assume that was the $30,000 listed from the Institute for Prosperity, which Zinke says paid him $30,000 in salary for one year. With a name that generic, you’d think there would be more information about it, but there’s little online. The “Institute for Prosperity and Security,” however, is a publisher of one of Neil Livingstone’s books.
Montana political observers wondered at the time why Ryan Zinke would attach himself to someone as bizarre as Livingstone when many considered Zinke to be a rising star in Montana GOP politics. Is the answer that he did it to collect a paycheck? It certainly isn’t normal practice for a running mate to be paid a salary, is it?
As someone who has long been critical of Zinke’s record and policies, I was actually excited to see him appointed to the Trump Administration. His penchant for self-promotion and shady financial deals seem to have largely escaped the notice of the press here in Montana, but the national press will continue to dig, both into his past and current dealings. Everything about Congressman Zinke, from his shady residential status while he ran for Congress to his creating a Super PAC to benefit his candidacy for office, show a person who will cut ethical corners to benefit himself.
And with greater power will only come greater temptation to enrich and promote himself. As the chorus notes in Antigone, “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”
If pride does indeed come before the fall, this is going to be a spectacular one to watch.