NOMINATIONS

Zinke's top donor lobbies for his Interior confirmation

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) has gotten a boost from his biggest campaign donor as he looks to secure confirmation as the next secretary of the Interior.

Fidelity National Financial Inc. — a Jacksonville, Fla., title insurance company that offers services across the country — disclosed that it lobbied in support of President Trump's nominee for Interior toward the end of last year.

"Supporting the nomination of Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana as the next Secretary of the Department of the Interior," said the fourth-quarter Lobbying Disclosure Act report filed by the company, which covers Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 of last year.

Contributions from Fidelity's executives and employees make the Fortune 500 company Zinke's largest campaign donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group. Overall, the two-term House member collected more than $154,000 in contributions from those affiliated with the insurance company.

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John Benton, who handles governmental relations for Fidelity, told E&E News that the reason for the corporation's lobbying in support of Zinke was simple. Fidelity's nonexecutive chairman, William Foley II, is a good friend of the congressman.

"Our chairman, Bill Foley, lives in Whitefish, Mont., where Ryan Zinke is the congressman," Benton said. "He really likes the guy. He think he's a straight shooter."

In the past, Zinke has said Foley is a friend and a "very, very bright guy," according to the Missoulian.

Foley has been a longtime Republican fundraiser, including supporting the White House campaigns of President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He is also chairman of Glacier Restaurant Group LLC, a restaurant business headquartered in Montana, and developer of Rock Creek Cattle Co., a 40,000-acre working Montana ranch, according to his Fidelity biography online. The Wall Street Journal reported Foley has also listed his ranch in Whitefish for sale for $26.7 million at the end of last year.

A Fidelity National Financial executive sent a letter of support for Zinke's nomination for Interior secretary to each member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to Benton. The company's lobbying for Zinke's confirmation consisted of that one letter to ENR panel members.

"As far as the company goes, we see a strong need for good leadership in Washington and want to support future leaders," Benton said.

The Fidelity lobbyist said the company does not have policy interests before the Interior Department.

"I think it is a wise use of company resources," Benton said. "We wrote a character reference. We don't have a vested interest. We are not trying to drill."

Ethics watchdogs saw Zinke's lobbying support from a campaign donor as more evidence that corporate interests will have sway in the Trump administration.

"It is rather emblematic of what we are seeing throughout this administration. ... This is really becoming a corporate Cabinet," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. "A major corporation is a major campaign donor and then is lobbying for this nominee."

While Fidelity may have no interests before Interior, the insurance company could be seeking favor elsewhere in the Trump administration. Supporting a high-profile nominee couldn't hurt in that effort, according to Holman.

"They could be just trying to befriend the entire Trump administration itself," he said.

Twitter: @KevinBogardus Email: kbogardus@eenews.net

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