Monday, September 22, 2008

Molnar vs. Tussing

Left in the West gives Brad Molnar a hard time over his brownout project. As scandals go, I would put this somewhere in the same range as the scandal over Brian Schweitzer making PSAs on government time. In other words, pretty low range. Even if you think the worst of Molnar, you'd have to agree that the Brownout was a pretty ineffective way to illegally boost his campaign -- too long before the election, too visible, too likely to fall flat.

More interesting is the interview with Molnar at Montana Headlines. His is an unusual mind, and I always enjoy watching it at work, even when I disagree with him, which is often (naturally, I do endorse his kind words about the Outpost).

My favorite Molnar insight remains one in an Outpost column on the futility of the state Drought Advisory Commission: When it rains, he said, commissioners have nothing to do. When it doesn't rain, there is nothing they can do.


Anonymous said...

Deliberately obtuse on behalf of your "best" former ad sales rep (Molnar), Mr. Crisp? MCA 45-7-104 is a Montana criminal statute that says those public officials who are in a regulatory position in Montana state government may not solicit or accept pecuniary benefit from companies they regulate. Mr. Molnar solicited, accepted and deposited $2,000 from companies that appear before the PSC. One of them, NorthWestern Energy, depends on Mr. Molnar and only 4 others to vote on rates it charges its customers. Mr. Molnar accepted and deposited in his personal checking account more than $1,000 beyond what he spent on his publicity event--which, by the way, was illegally funded because it wasn't paid for out of a constituency account. To take it further, Molnar then took his corporate sponsored materials and turned them into campaign materials for personal benefit--his re-election campaign.

Jay Stevens said...

I've no problem with the brownout, even his face adorning lit promoting it.

I do, however, have a problem with him using the lit on his door-knocking six months after it's over. And not just because now he's obviously using the lit as campaign material, but because he solicited funds from the companies he regulates to do it.

Now tell me how that in any way resembles Schweitzer's ads?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Crisp should disclose his conflict of interest when writing about Brad Molnar. Brad Molnar helped put food on Mr. Crisp's table by selling ads for him before becoming a PSC commissioner. Molnar also delivered newspapers for him and did other contract work. There is a professional, if not personal relationship between them. Mr. Crisp is not being fully disclosive, and though I'm sure he believes himself to be fully objective, he cannot. Hopefully, it won't be long before Mr. Molnar is selling ads for the Outpost once again.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the City of Billings could get rid of our very corrupt Mayor two years early, but if you look at the damage he could do on a statewide level I find myself voting for Molnar anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any particular feelings about Molnar one way or the other, but I was curious about what Anon No. 1 had to say about the law. So I googled it and discovered that he/she was trying to pull a misdirection play. He/she uses the phrase "pecuniary benefit" while the law uses the word "gift"--obviously a big difference.

I seriously doubt any judge or jury would find the Molnar money a "gift." I assume he's never been charged because any county attorney who looked at the case knew there was no chance of getting a conviction.

Meanwhile, a closer look at the law shows why there's little comparison between the governor's PSA episode and the Molnar situation as far as scandals go.

There's already been an official finding that the governor broke the law. The governor admitted he broke the law by mailing in money to cover a fine. Not only that, his lawyer made things worse by doing ex parte communications with the political practices office.

No one ever found Molnar guilty of breaking any law and. As far as I know, he wasn't charged with anything. Critics say he should be charged, but they apparently haven't read the law, or they are relying on misleading information like that provided in other comments here.

(There's also a huge difference in the two "scandals" in terms of the visibility and responsibility of the 2 men involved)

I have no problem with people criticizing Molnar for his work on the brownout project. It seems he showed lousy judgment. Public officials should not only avoid actual conflicts of interest, but should also avoid appearances of conflicts. It weakens public trust.

Anonymous said...

Molnar raised and deposited into his personal checking account more money than he spent on his publicity event. That's called a profit. The money solicited from corporations that the PSC regulates was deposited in his personal checking account, a direct violation of MCA 45-7-104. What did Molnar do with the extra money for several months before NWE demanded a reimbursement? Under Montana law, a refund is only considered one if it is not used (cashed) and is returned unused within 30 days. Molnar then took corporate sponsored materials, added stickers identifying himself as a candidate with sponsors listed (corporate, governmental and non profit) all of whom cannot legally contribute to a political campaign and he proceeded to campaign with the materials door-to-door, even after NWE, PPL and SD 2 advised him to stop. Molnar has been charged with breaking the law in several ways. There is an ethics hearing pending. Molnar has also been charged with multiple campaign finance law violations which are also being investigated. And, no, David, there hasn't been "An official finding" that the Governor broke the law. The commissioner of political practices has yet to render a decision. He has only received ADVICE from a hearings' examiner. Sloppy journalism, Dave, if that's what you call it. Do you really teach the subject? Astonishing!

Anonymous said...

"MCA 45-7-104. Gifts to public servants by persons subject to their jurisdiction. (1) No public servant in any department or agency exercising regulatory function, conducting inspections or investigations, carrying on a civil or criminal litigation on behalf of the government, or having custody of prisoners shall solicit, accept, or agree to accept any pecuniary benefit from a person known to be subject to such regulation, inspection, investigation, or custody or against whom such litigation is known to be pending or contemplated."
Were these gifts made payable to Brad Molnar from NWE and PPL gifts that are available to the general public and paid out the same way? Could any one of use email or dial up Bill Thomas at Northwestern Energy and ask for not one, but two $1,000 gifts and receive them? No? If not, it is clearly a gift to Mr. Molnar. And anyone who ever succeeded in receiving personal checks from a utility company for personal use, I'd like to hear from them. The average person would have to go through a community committee at the utility company to seek sponsorship. A lot more hoops would be required. Maybe even a requirement to prove how funds were spent. The average Joe wouldn't be able to obtain money the way Brad Molnar did.

David said...

Anonymous 338,
When did I say there had been an "official finding" that Schweitzer broke the law?

Anonymous 350,
I have never claimed, nor imagined, that I am "fully objective." No such animal exists in the human world.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 338 is getting me confused with David. I'm the one who made the comment about the official finding about the governor violating the law.

What I was referring to was the finding by the hearing examiner, UM law professor William Corbett. Corbett told the political practices commissioner that he thought the governor had violated the law and he recommended a $750 fine.

I think that qualifies as an official finding, since Corbett was acting in an official capacity. Apparently the governor does too, since he rushed off a check for $750--clearly an admission of wrongdoing. I'm guessing he was hoping that Dennis Unsworth would accept it and shut down the case, or that he would accept it and resist the urge to levy a much higher fine.

I don't know all the details of the Molnar situation. So if he funneled off some utility money as a "gift" into his own pocket, maybe he could have legal problems. But has anyone come up with actual proof of that, or is it all speculation?

Since Anon 338 is confused on a number of facts, I'm a little leery of trusting what they have to say, but wouldn't mind learning more from an unbiased source.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, perhaps copies of the corporate checks made out to Molnar personally which add up to more than he spent on any publicity stunt aren't enough evidence of a gift being made. I don't know about anyone else, but I've never received personal checks made out to me for thousands of dollars by Northwestern Energy and PPL Montana. Maybe I should walk into their offices in Butte and Billings and see if they'll do the same for me. Maybe it's done more often than I'm aware of? Anyone else out there receive $3,000 in checks from these corporations recently?

Eric said...

Hello Mary Jo Fox - if you are posting anonymously you should at least change a few of the words - LOL

Eric said...

Energy in Montana was de-regulated May 25, 1999 on Commission Docket D99.4.82 and it was approved by these commissioners;

Dave Fisher (D-Butte)

Nancy Mccaffree (D-Forsyth)

Bob Anderson (D-Helena)

Bob Rowe (D-Missoula)

Gary Feland (R-Shelby)

And, YES - this is the same Bob Rowe who just got a nice, high-paying job with the power company -

Where's the outrage Mary Jo?