HELENA – Former state Public Service Commissioner Brad Molnar finally won an ethics decision this week, with the dismissal of a second complaint linked to his solicitation of corporate money to fund energy conservation efforts in 2007 and 2008.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl on Wednesday adopted the recommendation of a state-hired hearings examiner, who said Molnar broke no laws when he asked Walmart and two utilities to help fund conservation events that he sponsored.
Motl then dismissed the complaint, which was filed in 2010 by Mary Jo Fox of Billings, who had managed the campaign of Molnar’s 2008 electoral opponent.
Fox also brought the 2008 complaint against Molnar that led to a ruling from a prior political practices commissioner that Molnar violated state ethics laws, by accepting two $1,000 gifts from power companies and improperly using his state email and computer to help his 2008 re-election campaign.
Molnar fought that complaint for five years, through the commissioner’s office and the courts, which consistently ruled against him.
The Montana Supreme Court in June upheld the decisions against him and $20,200 in fines and costs.
Molnar said Thursday that the ruling this week “just shows how subjective these cases are,” and he’s glad Motl saw that he wasn’t trying to imply any influence by soliciting the money.
Fox’s 2010 complaint said Molnar violated ethics law when he accepted $450 from Walmart to publicize a 2007 conservation event and solicited money from NorthWestern Energy and Montana-Dakota Utilities to help fund an energy-saving contest between Miles City and Laurel in 2008.
Both NorthWestern and MDU are regulated by the Public Service Commission. Molnar, a Republican from Laurel, was on the PSC from 2005-12, representing southeast Montana.
Betsy Griffing, a Missoula attorney and hearings examiner for the case, said last month that since Walmart isn’t regulated by the PSC, there’s no possible “quid pro quo” for Molnar accepting the money.
As for the money from the utilities, Molnar returned a $1,000 check from NorthWestern within a few days of receiving it, and MDU and NorthWestern ended up giving $500 each to the respective chambers of commerce of Miles City and Laurel, to fund the energy-saving contest, she noted.
Griffing said Molnar never accepted a gift, so no violations occurred.
Fox said Thursday she’s satisfied with the penalty and costs imposed on Molnar from her first complaint, and that he should pay the money and “put this five-year-plus matter to rest.”