In June, Zinke and his staffers took a four-hour flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Mont., aboard a private plane owned by the executives of a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration firm, aviation and business records show. The landing in Kalispell put Zinke a short drive from his home in Whitefish, Mont., where he spent the night, documents show. The flight cost taxpayers $12,375, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman. Commercial airlines run daily flights between the two airports and charge as little as $300.
Aaron Weiss of the Center for Western Priorities, a nonprofit conservation and advocacy group, said, “Secretary Zinke’s entire Nevada trip appears to be a flimsy excuse for a political event in Tahoe and a thank-you dinner with his biggest campaign bundler. “There was no legitimate reason for the secretary to be there in the first place,” Weiss said. “Then he saddles taxpayers with the bill for a private plane when he could have easily flown commercial.”