Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has quickly found new work as a senior vice president for the blockchain investment firm Artillery One. Zinke, who in the past has touted his bachelor’s degree in geology, will be making his first appearance for the firm at a cryptocurrency conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Described as “the world’s most exclusive investor conference on cryptocurrencies and blockchain investments,” the three-day event beginning on January 16 is held at Suvretta House; the event page says the five-star venue is “like a fairy-tale castle.”
Zinke’s last day as head of the Interior Department was just two weeks ago. He announced his resignation in December amid multiple ethics investigations as well as a Justice Department probe into whether Zinke lied to agency investigators. But as Artillery One’s chief executive Daniel Cannon told ThinkProgress, he does not expect these investigations to impact Zinke’s work for the blockchain investment firm.
“We are not concerned with these investigations as they do not involve A1 [Artillery One],” Cannon wrote via email. “We will let the DOJ do its job and act accordingly.”
Blockchain is a decentralized, public ledger that forms the technological backbone of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The new role marks a clear shift away from Zinke’s political career towards a focus on technology and finance.
It is unclear what Zinke’s background in the military, government, or his Montana-based business ventures brings to the table, other than his high-level government connections. It is also unclear what he will be paid; Cannon told ThinkProgress Zinke’s salary details are “confidential.”
It is not uncommon for cabinet officials and others to shift from the government to high-paid corporate jobs, where they can help their new employers connect with their recent colleagues.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told ThinkProgress Zinke’s new job choice is “preferable.” Given the fact that he isn’t going to work for an energy company or other natural resource company, industries overseen by the Interior Department, it helps avoid “raising alarm bells.”
“On the one hand, I think there are things that seem fine about this. We wouldn’t want people in government to be so limited in the kinds of work they can take that going into government becomes a punishment,” Krumholz said. “On the other hand, people in government have access to information and develop contacts and we wouldn’t want them to be able to kind of, turn on a dime and sell to the highest bidder, to be able to cash in on their government service in a way that provides a shortcut to their new employer.”
“He does bring not just celebrity, or notoriety depending on your view of him,” she added, “but also potentially brings contacts in the current administration and in government in Washington now, so that is something that ideally he would be transparent about.”
However, little is known about his new employer or Zinke’s role at the company.
Artillery One has virtually no online presence. A Facebook and Twitter account do exist for the company’s blockchain summit but the summit’s website appears to no longer work. Cannon directed ThinkProgress to its website, artilleryone.com, which links to a Dropbox file promotional video explaining the company’s goals.
Artillery One was incorporated on November 3, 2017 with 10 million shares at its disposal to authorize (although the value of each share is unclear) and, in October 2018, it registered a venture fund. Its listed address is a post office box in North Carolina.
Co-founded by Cannon (listed as the company’s sole officer in its 2017 annual report) and physician Bruce McClendon, M.D., it describes its mission as “advising & funding the next generation of disruptive technologies and connecting capital to these unique opportunities and special situations.”
As Cannon described to ThinkProgress, “Artillery One seeks cutting edge technologies that help mankind.”
The company also hosts “blockchain innovator summits”; the most recent invite-only conference was held at the end of September in California and cost $4,800 per ticket.
According to the press release, Zinke will be based out of Montana and California. He will “work closely” with Cannon to “pursue investing and development opportunities globally in energy, fintech and cybersecurity.”
Among the company’s investments, according to Cannon, is research at UCLA into battery storage that doesn’t use lithium. Artillery One is also “exploring” the use of graphene and “other non toxic forms of energy storage.” Additionally, Cannon said the company “seeks to help poor under developed nations provide alternative banking solutions and renewable energy.”
When asked for more details about Zinke’s role and what made him the right candidate for the job, Cannon said, “Secretary Zinke understands the need for alternative, renewable energy as climate change is a clear and present danger.”
“We agree that foreign wars over energy should be avoided and U.S. intervention over energy is against our principles,” Cannon added in answer to a question about how much Zinke’s role will focus on energy.
During his stint at the Interior Department, however, Zinke railed against what he called “radical environmentalists.” He also told the oil and gas industry that the government “should work for you,” dismissed climate change’s role in driving devastating wildfires in California, and considered a “secret science” policy widely viewed as a way to sideline science within the agency. Zinke has also previously said, “there’s no such thing as clean energy.”
The announcement regarding Zinke’s new role also stressed that “together with Mr. Cannon, they will continue to follow the vision of President Donald J. Trump in Making America Great Again, by bringing economic development, jobs and opportunities for people, at home and internationally.”
Pressed for clarification on this point, Cannon said, “I have no opinion on that. I stay out of politics. However, I love our country.”
This piece has been updated with comments from Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.