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Associated Press Lack of disclaimer questioned

HELENA (AP) - A state legislator and a member of the Montana Public Service Commission criticized Montana Power President Bob Gannon on Saturday for a four-page newspaper insert explaining the company's divestiture plans.

"The piece is clearly a paid ad, and a political one at that," said PSC member Bob Anderson. "Why was there no disclaimer labeling it as such?"

"How much did it cost? Who paid for it - ratepayers or shareholders?"

State Rep. David Ewer, D-Helena, also called the newspaper insert "a deceptive political ad" and also questioned who paid for it.

"Of course shareholders paid for it," Montana Power spokesman Cort Freeman said Saturday night.

He said it was an informational ad, not political, and that it cost $20,000.

Ewer said the ad was an attempt by Gannon to thwart Ewer's effort to expand next month's special legislative session to include Montana Power's planned sale of its utility holdings.

The legislator accused Gannon of misleading Montanans on several points.

"The insert claims the 'sale won't change service or rates,' but it should be painfully obvious that there is no way for MPC to control either the rates or the service once they sell the company," Ewer said in a news release.

Ewer said the insert also claims that "state laws are adequate to ensure a fair divestiture process."

"Not so," the legislator charged. "The PSC, Attorney General Joe Mazurek, the chief attorney for the Montana Legislature and the attorney for Montana's largest electricity users all say just the opposite."

He also disputed Gannon's claim that Montana Power shareholders took all the risks, so they deserve the profits from the sale.

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