Government Watchdog Seeks Investigation of Interior Secretary for Violating Ethics Rules

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 11, 2017

Contact: Daniel Stevens, dstevens@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability, a government watchdog group focused on public accountability, called on the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to investigate whether Secretary Ryan Zinke violated ethics rules that prohibit federal employees from endorsing private entities.  Secretary Zinke’s endorsement appears on the website of a fundraising firm he used for his congressional campaigns.

Read the complaint here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Secretary Zinke apparently believes rules are for other people.  Whether its jetting away on chartered planes or using his position for the financial benefit of allies, Sec. Zinke seems to think ethics rules are optional.  What happened to draining the swamp?”

ForthRight Strategy is a conservative direct mail marketing and fundraising firm. Prominently displayed on the firm’s home page is a quote from then-Congressman now Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, stating:

“You guys are in large part why I had the money and support that afforded me the opportunity to become a Congressman for the at-large seat in Montana. Your results and personal commitment to Team Zinke were bar none! I greatly value the professional as well as the personal relationship we have developed over many years! Thank you!”

Screenshot from www.forthrightstrategy.com as of October 11, 2017, 9:45 AM EST

Secretary Zinke employed Forthright Strategy for its direct mail services during his 2014 and 2016 congressional campaigns, and paid the firm, and its predecessor, nearly $800,000.  The head of Forthright Strategy, Kimberly Bellissimo, has been criticized for running a network of “scam PACs.”

Federal ethics rules prohibit employees from using their government positions or titles to endorse any product, service, or enterprise.  By publicly endorsing a fundraising firm and allowing a quote of his to be included on the firm’s website, Secretary Zinke appears to have violated federal regulations.

Earlier this year, the Office of Government Ethics similarly concluded that White House advisor Kellyanne Conway had violated ethics rules by endorsing Ivanka Trump branded products.

Last week, CfA called on the Office of Special Counsel and the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Interior to investigate whether Secretary Zinke violated conflict of interest laws and the Hatch Act by speaking before the National Hockey League team the Vegas Golden Knights as part of his official duties.  Both agencies have opened investigations into Secretary Zinke’s conduct.

Stevens continued, “There is a bright line rule: federal employees can’t endorse private businesses. Why is this so hard for Trump appointees to understand?”

CfA is nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.