Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and the chief executive of an aerial firefighting company based in Montana, announced his Republican campaign for the U.S. Senate in June.
UPDATE: Feb. 9 — More than a week after HuffPost published this story, the United Aerial Firefighters Association responded to say that it does not know what percentage of the proceeds from Tim Sheehy’s book it will receive, but that all of those funds would in turn be donated to a memorial trust fund that the Associated Aerial Firefighters, its partner, set up to support the families of aerial firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Montana GOP Senate hopeful Tim Sheehy has been promoting his new book about aerial firefighting while on the campaign trail — and often misrepresenting who benefits from the book’s proceeds.
Sheehy, a decorated former Navy SEAL and millionaire businessman, is vying for the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in November. He is the founder of Bridger Aerospace, a Bozeman-based aerial firefighting company, and the author of “Mudslingers: A True Story of Aerial Firefighting,” which came out Dec. 12.
“Mudslingers” is “part narrative nonfiction, part memoir” and tells a “riveting account of [Sheehy]’s journey from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the front lines of a different but no less important battle on the home front — the war against the escalating threat of wildfire,” according to publisher Permuted Press.
What Sheehy doesn’t mention, but which the publisher clearly notes on the book’s landing page, is that author proceeds go to both the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, which provides “immediate and long-term assistance to fallen & injured wildland firefighters and their families,” and the United Aerial Firefighters Association, an industry trade group that Sheehy co-founded early last year. The UAFA has spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress, including on legislation and policies that would benefit Sheehy’s company.
In August, Business Insider first reported on the book’s support for UAFA and the potential conflicts of interest that come with Sheehy funneling proceeds to a trade group that lobbies federal lawmakers. At the time, a spokesperson for Sheehy’s campaign did not respond to questions about how much revenue would go to UAFA and whether the campaign planned to promote the book.
Now that the book is out, Sheehy has been publicizing his work on the campaign trail while continuing to leave out certain details about one of the beneficiaries.
Sheehy has hyped his book on his personal social media accounts, rather than campaign-related ones. Earlier this month, for example, he alerted his Facebook and Instagram followers to an author event at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Bozeman. The flier for the event told would-be attendees that “ALL PROCEEDS go to Montana Wildland Firefighters.”
But there are times when the lines between Sheehy’s campaign and book promotion have been more blurry.
During a lengthy Jan. 10 interview on “Tactical Treasures” podcast, Sheehy discussed his Senate bid and twice promoted “Mudslingers.”
“One hundred percent of the proceeds of ‘Mudslingers’ go to the families of aerial firefighters who have been injured or killed in the line of duty,” he said. “I don’t make any money off this. It all goes to the community.”
Sheehy’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Permuted Press and the Wildland Firefighter Foundation did not immediately respond to inquiries seeking information about how the proceeds are being split.
Federal Election Commission rules generally prohibit candidates from using campaign funds to promote their books, with one exception being when book royalties are donated to charitable organizations. The Wildland Firefighter Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit, but UAFA is a non-charitable 501(c)(6) nonprofit focused on advancing the business interests of its members in the aerial firefighting industry.
One of Bridger Aerospace's aircraft, known as a "super scooper," battles the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires in the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico in April 2022.
In addition to the Dec. 12 interview with “Tactical Treasures,” he dedicated a full episode of his “Tim Said” podcast to his book in November. The podcast appears to mostly be a personal endeavor, but its website notes Sheehy’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate and directs viewers to his campaign website. When Sheehy was getting ready to launch the podcast in August, he took to Facebook to give a shoutout to his media manager, K Mita, for “getting me hooked with this sweet setup to start recording and running live podcasts!” By then, Mita had left his job as vice president of marketing and communications at Bridger Aerospace and was on the payroll of Sheehy’s campaign, according to his LinkedIn profile and campaign filings with the FEC. It is not clear whether Mita has had an ongoing role in the production of the podcast.
In that episode, Sheehy said “most of [the proceeds] will go to fallen aerial firefighters’ families” through donations to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation and the Montana Firefighter Fund, a similar Montana-based charitable organization that Bridger Aerospace employees founded. (Sheehy serves as the fund’s board chairman; Mita as its vice chair.)
Sheehy also noted that “some” proceeds would go to UAFA, which he described as “the first association that’s been formed by all the aerial firefighting companies to advocate for safer standardization, higher standards of technology with their aircraft and more consistent contracting language.”
“I hope folks buy it not because I’m going to get the money, but [because] it will support the aerial firefighting community,” he said.
That is technically true. However, UAFA lobbies for legislation and policies that would financially benefit Sheehy’s company, Bridger Aerospace. Sheehy is a member of UAFA’s board of directors. UAFA’s main lobbyist, Phil Hardy, is also a lobbyist for Bridger Aerospace. In 2023, UAFA and Bridger paid Hardy a combined $85,000, according to lobbying disclosures.
Last year, UAFA lobbied in support of H.R. 1586, which sought to protect the use of fire retardant without obtaining Clean Water Act permits, as well as for legislation that Tiffany Taylor, UAFA’s senior policy director, said would “allow the Forest Service to award longer term contracts with aerial firefighting companies.”
Bridger Aerospace relies almost exclusively on such federal contracts. As HuffPost previously reported, the company raked in more than $46 million in revenue in 2022 — 96% of which came from federal contracts. Sheehy earned nearly $5 million in salary and bonuses as the company’s CEO that year. Sheehy’s candidacy presents unique conflict of interest questions given that if he’s elected, he would have oversight over the very agencies that finance his aerial firefighting business.
The Interior Department under former President Donald Trump, which was led by now-Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) at the time, awarded Bridger Aerospace its first federal contracts in 2018, The Daily Beast reported. Sheehy and Zinke have a longstanding relationship, and Zinke presented Sheehy with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in 2015. Sheehy has called Zinke a personal friend and donated nearly $50,000 to Zinke’s reelection campaigns, according to The Daily Beast. Zinke endorsed Sheehy’s Senate bid.
Like Zinke, Sheehy is backing Trump in the upcoming presidential race and is parroting party-line pledges to rein in government spending — just not the spending that has bankrolled his own company — and to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests in Washington, D.C.
“Like you, I’m disgusted by the career politicians who run for office after office and love to talk about “fighting for you” while the problems we face only get worse,” Sheehy wrote in a post to X this month. “We need political outsiders who can’t be bought to drain the swamp and save America!”