HELENA – A lawyer for Gov. Brian Schweitzer is asking the commissioner of political practices to dismiss a complaint filed by the Montana Republican Party earlier this month.
The state GOP filed a political practices complaint arguing Schweitzer broke ethics laws by recording public service announcements promoting March as National Agricultural Month at the request of a Lewistown radio station.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2005 banning the use of taxpayer money on PSAs from officeholders who are running for election. Schweitzer signed the bill.
Schweitzer does not dispute the fact that he filed for re-election on March 4 and that he worked with state Agriculture Department officials to prepare to PSAs that were sent to radio stations three days later.
In the motion to dismiss, attorney Mike Meloy argued that the use of state-owned equipment, e-mail accounts and state employee work time does not constitute the use of “state funds” under the letter of the 2005 law.
Meloy’s motion said the law “deliberately does not prohibit the use of state ‘time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel’…”
Montana Republicans disagree with that interpretation.
“It’s not surprising that the governor thinks that using state money to pay a state employee doesn’t constitute an expenditure of state funds,” said GOP chairman Erik Iverson.
Iverson said Schweitzer willfully violated the law to gain an unfair advantage over Republican gubernatorial challenger, Sen. Roy Brown of Billings.
Political Practices Commissioner Dennis Unsworth has said the complaint should have been filed as an ethics complaint, which is supposed to be kept confidential under state law.
Iverson maintains the filing error was an oversight.
Unsworth said University of Montana School of Law professor William Corbett will act as hearings examiner in the case.
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