- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Montana lawmaker has revealed a week before Election Day that he filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Steve Bullock, despite a state law saying such complaints are confidential until they are resolved.

Republican Rep. Brad Tschida of Missoula wrote a letter to a number of legislators about the Sept. 21 complaint accusing Bullock, a Democrat, and Commerce Director Meg O’Leary of malfeasance, the Great Falls Tribune reported (http://gftrib.com/2eEoLy2). Tschida also accuses Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl of covering up for Bullock and O’Leary.

Tschida’s complaint is over allegations that Bullock misused the state plane for short trips and to attend a 2014 Paul McCartney concert in Missoula. O’Leary, who was a passenger on that flight, violated ethics laws when she accepted the flight as a gift, Tschida alleges.

Bullock is in a close race against Republican challenger Greg Gianforte. The governor’s use of the state plane has been an issue raised by Gianforte, Tschida and other Republicans throughout the campaign. Bullock has partially reimbursed the state for times he used the plane to attend campaign events scheduled the same day as official business.

The ethics complaint was filed with Motl’s office. State law says the person filing the complaint and the subject of the complaint must maintain confidentiality until the commissioner issues a decision. Motl said Tschida violated that law and he would seek a severe penalty.

“His issue is not larger than the requirements of the law,” Motl said. “Mr. Tschida is not God.”

Motl said the violation amounts to official misconduct, which carries penalties of a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

Tschida did not return a call or email for comment. In the letter, he says Motl told him the matter is confidential but the Montana Constitution grants him immunity to speak about it.

He cited the constitution’s Speech and Debate clause, which says a legislator “shall not be questioned in any other place for any speech or debate in the legislature.”

Motl said that clause does not apply. Tschida’s letter is not “speech or debate in the legislature,” and prior Montana Supreme Court decisions have ruled a legislator’s interest in the outcome of an ethics complaint is no greater than an ordinary citizen’s, he said.

Gianforte spokesman Aaron Flint said it is disturbing that Motl has not acted on Tschida’s complaint for two months.

“Once again, we have a governor demonstrating that he believes he is above the law,” Flint said. “Even after being caught red handed flying to rock concerts and campaign events and fundraisers, he continues to abuse taxpayer resources for his own gain.”

Bullock campaign spokesman Jason Pitt said it is Tschida who believes he is above the law

“He crossed the line by violating ethics rules and abusing his role as a state lawmaker to peddle Mr. Gianforte’s New Jersey-style political attacks just days before an election - and Montanans deserve better,” Pitt said.

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