Gage Skidmore / Flickr Ryan Zinke...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The Trump administration isn’t even a year old yet and the betting is furious: Which one of his appointed crooks and hoodlums will be the first to end up in the slammer? It may yet be former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but don’t underestimate all the Republican congresscritters Trump catapulted into burn-it-down government jobs. Republican congressmen have experience. They were grifting before Donald Trump ever learned how to tweet. They were grifting back when Trump had his original hair. They’re not going to stop until there are no more rubes to fleece.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has directed millions of dollars in political contributions since 2014 to a network of Washington operatives that prominent conservatives have accused of profiting by misleading donors. […]

Zinke has continued this relationship even as other Republicans have recoiled from dealing with Mackenzie, whose critics say he operates “scam PACs” that raise small-dollar donations from conservative voters but then spend the bulk of the money on consultants and overhead.

“Scam PACs” have been around a long while. There were countless versions set up during the last election cycle, internet-peddled political groups whose purported purpose was to help or hurt a given political cause but whose actual purpose was to provide spendin’ money to so-and-so, esquire, and his urgent yacht refurbishing needs. The only way to identify which action committees were legitimate and which were grifts was to, as a consumer, research the records of each. Most cater to conservative voters, for reasons that we will leave unspeculated-upon. Many, like Mackenzie’s firms, are accused of spending only pennies of each raised dollar on the things they claimed to be raising money for.

That Zinke has been forging a partnership with firms that even his fellow Republicans find too dodgy to work with is—well, to be honest, is expected behavior from anyone of such dim ethics that they could be picked for a Donald Trump cabinet position.

An Interior Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the assistance Zinke has offered to the Virgin Islands group or his use of political consultants. Mackenzie declined to be interviewed, and officials from the Virgin Islands organization — also known as VIGOP — did not respond to requests for comment.

Zinke is separately facing investigations by Interior’s internal watchdog and the independent Office of Special Counsel over his habit of mixing politics and official business.

The puzzle here is that Zinke isn’t running for anything (that we know of) and the Interior Department head is not generally expected to flit around the country fundraising for unspecific causes. Why he would fundraise for this group of companies is even curiouser.

Between the 2014 and 2016 elections, Base Connect had renamed itself ForthRight Strategy after a former executive pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. A number of the firm’s clients left, but Zinke’s campaign and his newly formed leadership PAC not only stayed with the firm but also spent substantially more on it in the next election.

We can only speculate … so let’s speculate that it’s because Ryan Zinke is, himself, as crooked as a salted pretzel.

Besides sharing an affinity for the same consultants as Mackenzie’s VIGOP, Zinke’s SEAL PAC has also followed a similar fundraising model: It raised two-thirds of its money from small donors in 2016, then steered only 4 percent of its spending to other campaigns, with almost all the rest going to operating expenses and overhead.

Aaaaaah, there we go. It’s not that Zinke is doing favors for a possibly-crooked buddy. It’s that Zinke has his own fingers in the till. And here we wondered what Donald Trump saw in him.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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