Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-day series of stories examining campaign donations to the candidates for Montana’s open seat in the U.S. House.
HELENA – Although former state Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, raised more in campaign donations than any Montana candidate for the U.S. House through Dec. 31, he collected the lowest percentage from in-state residents.
Zinke has found another lucrative source of donations elsewhere – the executives and employees of businesses associated with billionaire William B. Foley II, a part-time Montana resident.
His campaign has collected nearly 26 percent of its total campaign funds, or nearly $116,000, from executives and employees of Florida-based Fidelity National Financial Inc., a business Foley created, along with its affiliated businesses and their political action committees.
Fidelity National Financial’s website said the corporation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation’s largest title insurance company through its title insurance underwriters.
Zinke raised nearly $448,000 from individuals and political action committees, or PACs, through Dec. 31. That’s more money than any other Montana House candidate, excluding candidates’ personal loans.
An analysis of campaign finance reports shows Zinke raised $83,700 in itemized donations (those of $200 or more) from Montanans, for 18.7 percent of his total.
His Montana total is less than all but one candidate, state Sen. Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive, and the lowest percentage of the four major candidates in the race on Dec. 31.
Democrat John Lewis, Republican former state Sen. Corey Stapleton and Rosendale all reported raising about 45 percent of their donations from Montanans.
“The first phase was a lot of the bigger fundraisers,” Zinke said. “I think what we’ll see in the next fundraising report was the Montana support will be more balanced, as it should be.”
Zinke said he’s been having fundraisers scheduled around county Republican Lincoln-Reagan Day dinners in Montana.
“Our reach is both in and out of Montana, and it’s a lot of veterans,” said Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL commander. “I’ve been endorsed by five or six veterans’ organizations.”
When he was volunteer chairman of Special Operations for America (SOFA), a Super-PAC formed in 2012 to oppose President Barack Obama’s re-election, Zinke said some 15,000 veterans donated to the group.
“People follow me,” he said. “A lot of those donors (to his House campaign) were veterans.”
As he ramps up fundraising in Montana, Zinke said his campaign is seeking out “stakeholders that have businesses in Montana.”
In a shot apparently aimed at Rosendale, a Maryland native who loaned his campaign $500,000, Zinke said, “I’m not self-funding. I’m not a carpetbagger. I’m a third-generation Montanan. Montana is in my DNA.”
Foley, meanwhile, is the founder and board chairman of Fidelity National Insurance and serves on the boards of other affiliated companies.
He also is the majority shareholder of Whitefish Mountain Resort, formerly Big Mountain, and owns a home on Whitefish Lake. Foley also owns Rock Creek Cattle Co., a 30,000-acre luxury real estate development and private golf course, near Deer Lodge.
Zinke called Foley a friend and a “very, very bright guy” who believes in American exceptionalism. Foley was a major bundler of campaign funds for President George W. Bush and unsuccessful presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney.
“He’s a major donor that steps in when he thinks he’s right,” Zinke said. “He just doesn’t support Republicans. He’s very careful about who he supports. His advice to me is you have to do what you say. Don’t yield to pressure. He’s got a Rolodex.”
Zinke added that Foley is a West Point graduate and a veteran “who has a lot of veterans working for him.”
Democratic-leaning blogs have been attacking Zinke over the donations from those working for the Foley-related businesses.
“In their mind, they want to knock me out in the primary,” Zinke said, adding that Democrats believe he would be the strongest Republican to beat in the general election.
Attempts to reach Foley through Zinke’s campaign were not successful.
An analysis of Zinke’s campaign finance report showed he raised these funds from executives and employees of companies that Foley founded or is associated with: Fidelity National Insurance, $55,625; FIS, $15,800; Fidelity National Title Insurance, $12,625; Lender Processing Services, $11,500; Chicago Title Co., $7,250; Commonwealth Title, $2,600; Alamo Title Co., $1,000.
Zinke has raised nearly $115,000 in donations from Florida, about $80,000 from California, more than $49,700 from Texas donors and more than $46,000 from donors in New York.
Fidelity National Financial’s political action committee provided Zinke’s campaign with $4,425 in in-kind donations.
Other PACs that donated to Zinke’s campaign were: Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans for Congress, Unionville, Va., $4,000; McGlinchy Stafford PAC, New Orleans, $2,600; Freedom’s Defense Fund, Washington, D.C., $5,000; Lender Processing Services PAC, Washington, D.C., $5,000; Specialty Equipment Market Association, Diamond Bar., Calif., $2,000; ARPAC, Baton Rouge, La., $2,500; and PH&S Federal PAC, $2,600.