Zinke Files 3: Pay for Play, the Most Corrupt Politician in Montana History


What is “Pay for Play,” exactly? The allegations of pay-to-play in Illinois became a national scandal after the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich in December 2008, on charges that, among other things, he and a staffer attempted to “sell” the vacated U.S. Senate seat of then-president-elect Barack Obama. But essentially, the concept of “Pay for Play” is using government power to personally enrich oneself.

If this is the case, Ryan Zinke may very well be the most corrupt politician in Montana history and could very likely deserve to be behind bars. In a slow-drip case against Ryan Zinke as the chosen primary candidate for our second congressional seat, we have already written parts one and two, which you can read by clicking the hyperlinks to you left. They are, for lack of a better word, astounding examples of personal corruption and taxpayer waste. But there are hundreds of facts yet, Montana Daily Gazette will be releasing in the Zinke files. We explain why we are taking this approach – and the largest and most trusted conservative news outlet in Montana here. In short, it’s because Zinke is neither trusted nor conservative.

In How Zinke Lost His Way, Politico (12/22/2021), authors Ben Lefebvre and Nick Juliand highlighted some yet undisclosed shady (criminal?) business dealings in which Zinke used his position of public trust for private gain. Like so many going to Washington relatively broke (Zinke is on disability, despite being videotaped in some very active participatory activities), it didn’t take long for Zinke to enrich himself beyond his wildest dreams.


As Politico pointed out, “After his Navy retirement, he soon won election to the state Senate while racking up a series of jobs and business deals that earned him combined salaries in the six digits in industries ranging from firearms to pipeline technology.” Being an entrepreneur is great. Using public trust to be privately enriched is something more akin to Llew Jones than a real statesman.

Per usual, Zinke used his (often tenuous and tedious) experience as a SEAL and veteran to financially capitalize on his military career. After moving to Whitefish (Zinke has often lived outside Montana), he obtained a former gravel pit owned by BNSF Railroad to convert into a public park run by a foundation he created. The idea – as it was sold to the public – was that the park would be BNSF’s and Zinke’s gift to the Whitefish community as a tribute to local veterans. Voters ate it up.

So did Zinke. Financially.

Was this a merely good gesture for veterans on behalf of Zinke? That depends who you ask and if you follow the money. According to a February 2009 statement by Zinke, his vote (deciding vote) to gift BNSF with greater land access in Montana had nothing to do with the money gifted to him to build the park in his hometown. It steered millions of dollars into railroad construction. Records do not indicate that he disclosed his relationship with BNSF.

It seems simple enough; give BNSF millions of dollars, they buy you a gravel pit. Use your status as a veteran, be a hero. In the meantime, millions of dollars were created in what appears to be a blatantly obvious quid pro quo.

That land, for which Whitefish was so grateful and boosted Zinke’s re-election odds, was “gifted” to Zinke’s foundation – for “free” – after his vote. Free never cost so much money in Montana history.


A much larger, nicer park for veterans could have been created. But that would have ruined Zinke’s real plans…building himself a micro-brewery business across the street. Zinke, always a heavy drinker (he brags about buying alcohol for underaged kids in high school), coveted the prospect of owning his own brewery. BNSF gave it to him.

Something smelled awful about the deal, but who wants to doubt a former SEALs’ love of country especially when he’s building a meager veteran’s park across the street. In reality, the real value of the BNSF-turned-Zinke property was an old mill that could be renovated for a hotel and micro-brew. This brought national attention as government waste watchdog groups called foul. The Seattle Times caught on to the story.

Published June 21, 2018, journalist Matthew Brown deep-dived into the deal and found out that it was for capitalistic purposes, not charitable causes. The park lies mostly dormant – undeveloped – ten years after the deal was first made. The Foundation that received the land from BNSF – owned by Zinke, his wife, and a co-owner of Haliburton (ahem). Not only was the land deal never fulfilled (so far as the park goes) and personally enriches Zinke, it personally enriches Haliburton.


In reports released from FOIA requests, it was determined that – according to the Seattle Times – “

Zinke met with Lesar, his son John Lesar and Montana developer Casey Malmquist at the secretary’s office last August.

The meeting took place more than five months after Zinke left the foundation involved in the real estate deal. Under Zinke’s watch, the Interior Department has pushed to increase drilling on public lands and eased restrictions on the oil and gas industry — moves that could directly benefit Halliburton.”


The land in question was donated by BNSF Railway in 2008 to Zinke’s foundation to create a park for children to sled and skate in the winter. Immediately adjacent to the park is an abandoned mill where Lesar plans a hotel, microbrewery, art gallery and office space.

The Whitefish City Council approved a zoning change for Lesar’s project in January, with one of the conditions that the developers sign an agreement with the foundation to build a parking lot that will benefit both the park and the commercial development.

This deal lead to Zinke’s firing (or forced retirement) by Donald Trump as he looked at the facts, thought twice, and said something along the lines of “You’re Fired.”


It’s time to learn about Flathead County’s Commissioner Holmquist. To learn the truth click here.


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