Opinion

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Closing Range

Scandal

The real scandal is fake, partisan watchdogs, deliberately abusing the Freedom of Information Act to crank up fake scandals to generate fake news

Early last month, just days after being cleared of alleged misconduct regarding a speech he’d given to the Vegas Golden Knights (Whitefish Mountain Resort owner Bill Foley’s new hockey team), Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke found himself in the middle of yet another ethics imbroglio, an “exclusive” broken by reporters from the Beltway political news provider Politico.

Politico apparently pulled out all the stops for this story. A reporter/photographer team parachuted into Whitefish at the end of April, then was given seven weeks to polish and publish a 4,200-word expose – about not much.

I’m happy to say that one of our local news reporters got the basic story right: The “sweetheart deal” was a planning requirement imposed and approved by the City of Whitefish.

What I want to explore is the context of all these “ethics” allegations. Why so many?

Well, a good place to begin is with one “expert” cited by Politico, Melanie Sloan, senior advisor at “government ethics watchdog American Oversight,” who dinged Zinke’s “lack of transparency.”

What Politico doesn’t tell you, Donovan Slack of USA Today reported back in 2017, under the headline: “Legal watchdog launches to hound Trump agencies.” Yep – hound Trump agencies! The director of American Oversight was a “State Department lawyer under Obama” while Sloan was “founding executive director of the left-leaning watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.”

Oversight is “organized as a 501c3 nonprofit and doesn’t plan to disclose its funding sources,” and “[w]e don’t discuss our donors,” Sloan said to USA Today. So much for “transparency.”

Another fun fact about Sloan comes from the Huffington Post, which reported in 2016 she was doing “some work with CFA” or Campaign for Accountability, which HuffPo said itself was “run by operatives from [CREW].” There’s more fun later.

Let’s move on to the big February brouhaha about Zinke’s ownership of a whopping 1,000 shares in Proof Research, millionaire Michael Goguen’s gun company. The Campaign Legal Center (blandly reported by Associated Press as a “political watchdog”) demanded an investigation into what might be less than $1,000 worth.

The screamfest about Zinke’s phone call with Lisa Murkowski? Our “local watchdog,” the Western Values Project, had a suit filed on its behalf by Democracy Forward in April 2017, which dropped the case in November. What is Democracy Forward? Brand new, created in 2017, funded by, according to Inside Philanthropy, billionaire Herb Sandler, a “funder alarmed by Donald Trump’s rise.” Notable board member: John Podesta, who stood in for Hillary Clinton on election night.

A Sandler Foundation handout shows the foundation supports not just Democracy Forward, but also Campaign Legal Center, American Oversight, Center for American Progress, and the Center for Biological Diversity ($800,000 a year, clockwork). Coincidence, right?

Then there’s the Rick Scott (Florida) “scandal” in April, concerning a Zinke speech about oil drilling alleged by the American Democracy Legal Fund to be “blatant political activity.” Now, ADLF is an old, old group, founded way back in 2014 with Washington, D.C. headquarters in the high-dollar 455 Massachusetts Avenue NW building, suite 650. What else is in suite 650? Um, how about Media Matters for America/Action Network and the American Bridge 21st Century Super PAC? Across the hall in Suite 600? How about CREW? I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Now, I said Melanie Sloan is fun – here’s how. That “some work for CfA?” Actually, she founded CfA as a “project” on behalf of the New Venture Fund, a $371 million “charity” that also counts Whitefish’s very own Zinke critic Western Values Project as a “project.” What else do CfA and Western Values have in common? Their addresses of record are both UPS Store private mail boxes, one in Whitefish behind Walgreens and the other on Capitol Hill.

So what’s the real scandal? Fake, partisan watchdogs, deliberately abusing the Freedom of Information Act to crank up fake scandals to generate fake news so they can control a fake government. Yet there’s not one national level news reporter who can figure it out?

Trust me, if I had the luxury of 4,200 words, a plane ticket and an expense account, I wouldn’t waste it like the reporters at Politico did.

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