HELENA – Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar has been fined $5,750 for violating state ethics laws, the commissioner of political practices said.
Dennis Unsworth also ordered the Laurel Republican to pay nearly $15,000 to partially cover the costs of the investigation, the Lee Newspapers State Bureau reported.
Unsworth mostly upheld the proposed order and record fine recommended by the hearings examiner, University of Montana law professor William Corbett.
Corbett found that Molnar improperly solicited and illegally received $1,000 from PPL Montana and NorthWestern Energy to fund a 2007 Billings energy conservation event. Officials rejected Molnar’s argument that the brochures for the “Great Billings Brownout” were educational materials or that the “brown out” was part of his official governmental duties.
Molar acknowledged using some leftover brochures as campaign materials.
The decision found that Molnar solicited the $1,000 from a NorthWestern Energy officer during a break in a PSC hearing in the fall of 2007, creating an appearance of wrongdoing. The PSC regulates NorthWestern Energy.
Molnar said he plans to appeal the ruling to District Court.
“I’m disappointed,” he said Monday. “I’m not going to pay no $14,000” for court costs.
Molnar said he is confident that legal precedent is on his side and he argues that Corbett reversed all his past ethics rulings to reach his conclusions in this case.
Mary Jo Fox, manager of the 2008 campaign of Molnar’s Democratic opponent, Ron Tussing of Billings, filed the complaint. With the decision, she called on Gov. Brian Schweitzer to remove Molnar from office.
If that happens, Molnar said, “it would probably be a wrongful discharge suit worth millions.”
Fox also alleged that Molnar used his state computer, e-mail and telephone for campaign purposes and used a state cell phone for personal business. Corbett found four violations, including Molnar’s use of his PSC e-mail address in a letter soliciting campaign donations and on a campaign website.
Molnar also sent e-mails using his state-issued computer to a Great Falls Rotary Club contact, a Billings newspaper and to arrange attendance at a Miles City event where he walked in a parade with other Republican candidates, Corbett found.
The e-mail to the Rotary Club contact, made after Molnar spoke to the Great Falls group, sought a possible newspaper editorial “about how lucky they are to have a commissioner that is so darn knowledgeable and willing to travel on his own dime to educate the public …. Please?”
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