A Washington Post story, based in part on records obtained by Western Values Project, reveals how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife have used his post for exclusive tours and patronage for friends.
“This three-hour tour of the Channel Islands seemed to be nothing more than an effort by Secretary Zinke to give his cronies a free ride,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “Secretary Zinke continues to act like our national parks and public lands are for the elites who have backed his political career. That’s just as true if you’re an old buddy looking for a special favor or a giant oil company looking to profit from our national heritage by drilling public lands.”
The trips documented included private tours of areas closed to the public, exclusive visits to the White House, and personalized trips to national parks. Even Lola Zinke’s private yacht dealer was included on the trip as an anointed ‘subject matter expert’ who could offer ‘personal testimony’ according to the documents. It is unclear what expertise her yacht dealer actually provided.
It was also revealed that Zinke’s wife, Lola, in a highly unusual move for a cabinet member’s spouse, has begun going directly to agency staff to get her personal requests fulfilled.
This isn’t the first questionable use of taxpayer resources Zinke has authorized for friends and high-level donors. Last June, he spoke to a megadonor’s professional hockey team in Las Vegas only to charter a private plane back to Montana at taxpayer expense. After launching an investigation into Zinke’s travel habits, the Interior Inspector General said the charter flight could have been avoided.
These unusual uses of taxpayer resources come at a time when the Secretary has defended a budget that nearly eliminates the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, while advocating for additional funds to address the National Park maintenance backlog.