Environment Featured Montana Politics Ryan Zinke

Maybe Ryan Zinke Wants Veterans to Pay More for National Parks to Fund Private Tours for Fat Cats

Ryan and Lola Zinke just can’t help themselves: while the former is publicly calling for veterans, the elderly, and the disabled to pay more to attend our national parks, both appear to be quite comfortable with using the resources of the Interior Department to arrange special tours for donors, friends, and other fat cats to properties run by Interior.

The Washington Post reports that Secretary Zinke and his wife, who holds no official position at Interior, have been requesting, often during the height of tourist season, personalized, private visits to national parks and facilities for well-heeled friends and potential donors:

In the past 14 months, according to documents obtained in separate FOIA requests by The Washington Post and the advocacy group Western Values Project, the Zinkes have arranged for acquaintances and administration officials to get special tours of the Lincoln Memorial, including areas where the public is not allowed. At taxpayer expense, they took a yacht broker — who once sold Lola Zinke a boat — on a work trip to California’s Channel Islands National Park.

What’s most troubling about the tours is that many of them have been arranged by the Secretary’s wife, who has gone around the traditional channels to directly arrange tours for herself, abusing her influence to arrange trips for friends and herself.

One recipient of the Zinke’s generosity with taxpayer resources, who met the couple at a Steve Daines fundraiser, was so incensed that he didn’t receive his private tour of the Lincoln Memorial that he peevishly followed up, expressing his “great disappointment” that he didn’t receive the special treatment he had been promised.

The truth is, of course, that these private tours for the elite are small potatoes in the sea of graft and corruption surrounding Zinke and the entire Trump Administration, but the use of tax dollars to pamper the elite is especially galling given Secretary Zinke’s insistence that average Americans should pay twice as much to attend the jewels of our national park system and that the system lacked resources because it was being exploited by veterans and the elderly.

From Zinke’s Senate testimony:

When you give discounted [rates] to the elderly, veterans, and the disabled and do it by the carload, not a whole lot people actually pay at our front door,” Zinke said. “One person with a pass and everyone comes in for free. We are looking at ways to have more revenue at the front door at our parks.”

The King and Queen of Interior love to talk a big game about “draining the swamp” in D.C., but their constant abuse of imagined perks of the office—from taxpayer-funded vacations to Greece to illicit flights for campaign purposes, combined with the banal, crass acts like flying an official flag when Zinke is present–demonstrate  that they not only think they are entitled to taxpayers funding this lifestyle but that they don’t even care if we can see it.

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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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.

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