HELENA — Congressional candidate Ryan Zinke says he has distanced himself from the political action committee he helped launch now that he is running for office.
Special Operations for America has stockpiled more than $200,000 for the 2014 election cycle, thanks in part to the fundraising it paid Zinke to do.
Zinke said he doesn’t know if any of that money will be spent assisting his own election effort, or criticizing potential opponents.
“I don’t know, because I don’t coordinate with them,” Zinke said.
Zinke, a former state senator from Whitefish, announced last month that he is running for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.
Republicans widely expect that Daines, who has scheduled a special event this week for supporters, will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Max Baucus.
Zinke is a retired Navy SEAL who most recently lost a 2012 bid for lieutenant governor as Neil Livingstone’s running mate.
Special Operations for America originally was launched to assist Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, but then turned its attention to lower-ticket races.
Zinke ran the PAC, but he said he stepped down at the end of September before announcing his candidacy in late October.
The PAC previously paid a consulting firm called Continental Divide International LLC for fundraising help. The firm was run by Zinke and his wife, but Zinke said that arrangement has ended, as well.
Independent spending groups are not allowed to coordinate their election activities with candidates. If they do, it is considered a campaign contribution to the candidate that must comply with stringent limits.
Shortly after Zinke’s departure, the PAC posted Internet messages encouraging Zinke to run for office.
SOFA’s address in Whitefish is still just a few blocks from Zinke’s home.
Zinke said he checked with seasoned campaign lawyers to make sure that his involvement in the PAC, and subsequent run for office, didn’t run afoul of federal campaign laws.
Zinke potentially faces a crowded primary.
State Sen. Matt Rosendale of Glendive announced his candidacy last week for the state’s lone House seat. Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings also is running.
State Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula has said he would switch his U.S. Senate run to a House run if Daines runs for Baucus’ seat. More recently, he said he may stay in the Senate race amid dissatisfaction with Daines’ vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Former Baucus staffer John Lewis of Helena is running on the Democratic side.
Zinke, who bucked conservatives in his own party on a few issues during his time in the Legislature, said he is going to focus his campaign on a message of uniting people to fix the country’s budget and job growth problems.
“For the extreme right, I am probably not conservative enough. For the extreme left I am probably too conservative. For Montana I think I am just right,” Zinke said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.