Scandals pile up for Interior secretary

By: Rebecca Worby, High Country News, October 31, 2017

In recent weeks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has taken a lot of heat for his decisions. Conservation groups have lambasted him over the secretiveness of his department’s monuments review. The final review has yet to be made public, though a draft of the report leaked to the press in September. Conservationists have also critiqued his moves to undo years of collaborative planning for sage grouse protection.

Zinke paid one email marketing firm associated with Mackenzie, now known as ForthRight Strategy but earlier called Base Connect, close to $800,000. According to government watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, the firm’s website included a quote from Zinke endorsing its work, though the quote appears to have since been removed. Campaign for Accountability has called on the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether this violates ethics rules prohibiting federal employees from endorsing private entities.

Putting donors first

Zinke’s expensive charter flight took place after he gave a speech to the Vegas Golden Knights, a National Hockey League team. The chairman of title insurance company Fidelity National Financial owns the team. The employees and associated PACs of Fidelity National Financial donated nearly $200,000 to Zinke’s congressional campaigns as well as $1 million to Trump’s campaign.

Campaign for Accountability has called on the Office of Special Counsel and the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Interior to investigate whether this event constituted a violation of conflict of interest laws or of the Hatch Act. “Rather than putting America first, Zinke is putting a top donor first,” said Daniel Stevens, the group’s executive director.

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