Montana Judge Rules Against Molnar in Ethics Case

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar was correctly fined $21,000 for violating ethics laws by using state government equipment for re-election campaign work, a judge said in an order filed Tuesday.

Billings Judge Susan Watters affirmed that the decision from the commissioner of political practices, who determined that Molnar received unlawful gifts and improperly used state equipment.

The case stems from the Billings Republican’s 2008 campaign, when his opponent charged him of improperly soliciting and receiving $1,000 from PPL Montana and NorthWestern Energy to print brochures for a Billings energy conservation event in 2007.

The PSC regulates those utilities.

Former Political Practices Commissioner Dennis Unsworth also determined in his 2010 ruling against Molnar that the materials were campaign materials, and that Molnar used state government equipment during that campaign.

Molnar also later acknowledged distributing the materials while campaigning during that election cycle.

The judge rejected Molnar’s appeal and disagreed with Molnar’s assertion that the ethics laws were “unconstitutionally vague.”

“Unsworth’s decision was arrived at after much consideration of the factual record and applicable law,” Watters wrote.

The judge also found Molnar’s claim “disingenuous” that he was not a candidate for office at the time he was making and distributing the materials.

Molnar did not respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The ethics complaint was filed against Molar in 2008 by Mary Jo Fox, who managed the unsuccessful campaign of Molnar’s Democratic opponent, Ron Tussing.

The judge rejected Fox’s request to reimburse her attorney fees, saying the Legislature reversed that practice in 2001.

Molnar has been at the center of controversy at the PSC where his high-profile battle for chairmanship of the panel resulted in turmoil and infighting.

The fight culminated with fellow Republican Travis Kavulla turning against Molnar, siding with Democrats, and declaring that Molnar “lacked the temperament and credibility” to lead the body.

The 2010 ethics ruling by Unsworth was one of the reasons used to oust him from a short-lived stint at the head of the panel.