BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A political watchdog organization accused the dormant congressional campaign of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday of skirting contribution laws when it sold a motor home to a friend of Zinke at a steep discount.
The Campaign Legal Center complaint to the Federal Election Commission also accused Zinke’s campaign of failing to report the identity of contributors and of using campaign funds for Zinke’s personal use after he was confirmed into President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
In August, The Associated Press reported the campaign bought the 2004 motor home from Zinke’s wife for $59,000 in 2016 and sold it earlier this year to a Zinke friend in the Montana Legislature for $25,000.
The complaint says the campaign either overpaid Zinke’s wife or gave a sweetheart deal to the buyer, state Sen. Edward Buttrey.
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“Converting funds for personal use, it’s like a kickback of sorts. It’s a real issue here.” Campaign Legal Center spokesman Corey Goldstone said.
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift — who was also Zinke’s spokeswoman during the 2016 campaign— said the department cannot weigh in on political matters and declined further comment.
Buttrey could not be reached for comment.
The allegation about converting campaign funds to personal use was based on more than $4,000 in payments Zinke’s campaign reported making in March and June to the Capitol Hill Club.
However, it was unclear from those reports if the payments were for events that pre-dated Zinke’s March 1 confirmation or if they came after he’d assumed his post at Interior.
The Campaign Legal Center targeted Zinke with previous complaints in 2014 — the year he was first elected to Congress — and again earlier this month.
The 2014 complaint alleged possible illegal coordination between Zinke’s campaign and a fundraising group, Special Operations for America PAC, that Zinke had formed and that later supported his candidacy.
On Oct. 6, the watchdig group alleged Zinke had violated the Hatch Act that prohibits executive branch employees from soliciting campaign contributions.
It was based on a report in Politico that said donors paid up to $5,000 for photographs with Zinke when was he was on an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
To date the prior complaints have not resulted in any action by the election commission against Zinke.
Representatives of Zinke denied any wrongdoing by him or his campaign in the previous cases.
Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at www.twitter.com/matthewbrownap