BILLINGS – Gov. Brian Schweitzer was on a state-funded trip when he gave his speech to a lawyers’ group claiming to have influenced a 2006 congressional election.
Schweitzer was in Philadelphia in July for a National Governors Association conference and later addressed the American Association for Justice. The governor has said he was joking when he suggested in the speech that he delayed election results and was aware of tribal police running off Republican poll watchers.
Republican gubernatorial challenger Roy Brown has criticized the governor for the speech. On Tuesday, Brown’s campaign said taxpayers should not pay for his hotel on the night of the speech, calling it a campaign-related appearance.
Brown’s campaign spokesman Alden Downing said Schweitzer should reimburse the state at least $289 plus tax — the cost of one night at the hotel.
“He wasn’t talking to the trial lawyers for Montana’s benefit,” Downing said. “While it may not have been illegal, a partial payment is reasonably expected.”
Schweitzer’s campaign said it will not pay the money back because the speech was scheduled around official business. Spokesman Harper Lawson also said the governor planned to stay the extra night before the speech was even scheduled.
“The governor did not alter his schedule or stay in Philadelphia longer to speak to the trial lawyers. He would have left the next day regardless,” Lawson said. “It was (paid for) at state expense, just as every other governor who attended the conference.”
The four-day meeting of the governors ended at noon on July 14. That’s about the same time Schweitzer addressed the lawyers group, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, according to the association’s Ray De Lorenzi.
De Lorenzi said Schweitzer was not paid for the speech.
That night, Schweitzer stayed for a fourth night at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. He left the next morning.
The total cost of the trip was $2,235, according to his campaign.
No complaints over the matter have been filed with the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices.
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