By Matt Volz ASSOCIATED PRESS
HELENA – Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has closed his congressional campaign account and given nearly all of the fundraising cash that was left to a charitable foundation he started and his wife now runs.
Federal Election Commission reports show that Zinke, a former Republican U.S. representative from Montana, terminated his House campaign fundraising account earlier this month.
The last transaction is a Dec. 8 payment of $11,594 to the Great Northern Foundation.
Zinke founded that nonprofit organization to maintain a park in Whitefish, his hometown. He is no longer on the foundation’s board, but his wife, Lola, is the president of the foundation, previously known as the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation.
Zinke told “The Associated Press” in a phone interview on Dec. 13 that it was time to close the fundraising account, that not a lot of money was left in it and it was “absolutely appropriate” to give the fundraising cash to an organization his family runs.
“I’m not worried about appearances because you do right and fear no one,” he said. “I can’t think of a better place for it to go than a place I helped found where kids can go and sled.”
Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center said campaigns can give money to charities as long as the funds don’t provide any benefit to the candidate or his family.
“If neither Zinke or his wife are getting a salary or financial benefits, it’s probably permissible,” Fischer said.
Zinke said his family is the only donors to the foundation, which maintains the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park. The money would likely go toward those operations, he said.
Politico first reported the Zinke campaign’s donation to the foundation.
The Great Northern Foundation is the same organization involved in a land deal in 2018 with the chairman of Halliburton, an energy services company that did business with Interior when Zinke was secretary.
The foundation allowed Chairman David Lesar to use land for a commercial development adjacent to the park.
That prompted an inquiry by the Interior Department’s inspector general. Zinke said there was nothing illegal or inappropriate about the deal and the news media twisted an agreement to provide better access to sledding into “an illicit oil deal.”
Construction on the Lesar’s commercial development has not begun.