HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney has been fined the maximum of $1,000 for violating state ethics laws by participating in a campaign-related video conference call from his state office this spring, the commissioner of political practices said Wednesday.
Cooney, who is running for governor, has said he participated in a Democratic Governors Association call on his personal laptop in his office at the Capitol on April 13 because he was on a tight schedule as the state dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. His campaign called it an isolated incident.
The Montana Republican Party filed an ethics complaint over the call in May. Two other organizations filed similar formal complaints.
“When Lt. Governor Cooney was supposed to be working for the people of Montana, he was using taxpayer resources to strategize with the out-of-state liberals that are bankrolling his campaign,” Spenser Merwin, executive director of the Montana Republican Party said in a statement Wednesday.
“The lieutenant governor was in the office helping manage the state through the onset of the COVID pandemic," his campaign spokesperson Ronja Abel said. "He holds himself to the highest ethical standards — and this is a small price to pay for leadership, for being on the job working with Gov. (Steve) Bullock in an unprecedented crisis.”
State law bans a public employees from using public time, facilities or equipment for campaign purposes.
The Democratic Governors Association's website says it is dedicated to electing Democratic governors and candidates and participates in campaigns by providing resources and helping candidates deliver their messages, the ruling notes.
“Objectively and clearly, Mr. Cooney's participation in the DGA conference call was in his capacity as a candidate for governor and his participation is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than support for his nomination and election,” Commissioner Jeff Mangan wrote in his decision.
The violation calls for an administrative penalty of $50 to $1,000.