Ryan Zinke SCAM PACS???? Well, Knock Us Over With Half A Percent Of The Take
Would you buy a used car from this man?
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a busy guy -- not only is he doing his very best to open up America's public lands to as much logging, mining, and drilling as possible, he's also dedicated to fundraising for a bunch of political action committees that say they're promoting conservative causes. All that fundraising isn't winning him much love from other conservatives, though, since the PACs he's steering money to seem far better at enriching political consultants than actually doing much politicking, according to a big exposé published by Politico yesterday.
The Politico piece focuses on fundraising Zinke's done for what other conservatives call "scam PACs" run by a character named Scott B. Mackenzie, whose mission in life is to raise money for big splashy causes like keeping Hillary Clinton from becoming president, then spending the funds raised on consulting firms that turn out to have ties to McKenzie and his pals. Mackenzie operates out of Washington DC, of course, but he also runs something called the "Virgin Islands Republican Party," which makes for lots of nice scenic fundraising opportunities in St. Croix. Much of the money comes from small-dollar donors who have no idea they're not so much Stopping Hillary or saving America as redistributing wealth to a bunch of shell companies that happen to share post office box locations with the PACs, which are actually notorious among Republicans:
The critics include former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who filed a suit accusing Mackenzie and other defendants of running a “national fundraising scam” after they gave his 2013 campaign for governor less than a half percent of the money they had raised in his name.
Similarly, Zinke’s own leadership PAC also relied heavily on small donors while spending heavily on consultants, in a departure from how most members of Congress operate those kinds of groups.
We have to say, only spending half a percent of the take on doing politics is the kind of grift that would get a wolf whistle from Sarah Palin.
Zinke's own fundraising has long followed the same pattern, as Yr Wonkette reported way back in 2015 when Commander Zinke was still a mere scrub of a freshman congressman. His very own outfit, Supporting Electing American Leaders PAC (SEAL, because Zinke will never stop reminding you he was a Navy SEAL), had the ostensible goal of getting more military vets elected, but mostly it was a machine for raising money and filtering it to consultant fees and overhead, while spending a few thousand dollars here and there on political campaigns.
The FEC records reviewed by Politico didn't appear to turn up anything illegal or any "direct compensation from his association with Mackenzie, the Virgin Islands PAC or its consultants." It's just incredibly weird behavior for a politician to be putting so much effort into fundraising that appears to place a fairly low priority on getting anyone elected. And it's particularly out of the ordinary for a cabinet official to be doing as many fundraising events -- about one a month -- as Zinke has been. Then again, this is the Trump administration, so Zinke could be trying out a new business model for Serving The People. ( It's a cookbook! )
Go read the whole Politico piece for a tutorial on how Mackenzie's multiple PACs have scammed old folks into thinking they're spending their cat food money on saving America from any number of threats; it's really an eye-opener. If it weren't such an obviously brilliant scam to enrich consulting firms Mackenzie's connected to, you could almost build a nifty conspiracy theory painting him as a secret Democratic operative out to ruin Republicans' fundraising opportunities.
Zinke is very friendly with Mackenzie, and has enthusiastically participated in fundraisers for Mackenzie's "Virgin Islands GOP" (VIGOP) -- and Zinke is now under investigation by Interior's inspector general for combining official travel with a fundraising trip to the Virgin Islands in March. For that event,
an invitation listed tickets costing as much as $5,000 a couple, and Zinke’s schedule indicated that high-dollar donors had a chance to take photos with him. It was at least the third VIGOP event Zinke had attended there since 2015.
Funny thing about VIGOP's spending: A lot of it ends up at a bunch of Washington DC consulting firms that all share the same address. And here's one heck of a coincidence:
Those firms also received more than $3.2 million during the same period from Zinke’s congressional campaign, leadership PAC and a super PAC he founded before running for Congress, federal campaign records show.
Zinke even did a promotional blurb for one of the firms, ForthRight Strategy, which formerly went by the name "Base Connect" -- the name it was using when Wonkette wrote about Zinke's SEAL PAC shenanigans in 2015. He praised their efforts on his behalf, which seems a little odd, considering that all in all, ForthRight ended up spending less on Zinke's behalf than it took in from Zinke's own 2014 campaign. Excellent work, guys!
We also learn that Zinke's SEAL PAC was an especially scammy little outfit, spending only about 4% of its funds on doing political campaigning, but badgering old folks with direct mail appeals insisting their donation would save America from going straight to hell. One elderly donor's daughter said the group kept soliciting money long after she'd made repeated requests to SEAL PAC and other groups to please stop pestering her mom, who kept donating money she couldn't spare:
“It took a great deal of time and effort but I managed to get most of them to stop. The Seal PAC was one of the most persistent,” [Lorraine] Hutchinson told POLITICO in a Facebook message last week. “I am convinced that these groups knowingly take advantage of the vulnerable elderly and this is a widespread problem without any easy solutions.”
Gee, if you consider all this scammy fundraising with his frequent trips on government planes-- combining federal business and fundraising -- and his completely coincidental friendship with a Montana contractor who's getting $300 million to rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical grid, and stir in his fondness for opening up national monuments to commercial exploitation, and you might almost get the impression Zinke isn't exactly burning with a desire for public service, huh?
Just go ahead and add your own "To Serve Man" punchline here, OK?
[ Politico ]