Montana Politics

Serious Allegations Traded at the PSC Meeting

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I was finally able to download the entire video of the PSC Commission work session today and it’s a remarkable meeting, as GOP members of the commission traded serious ethical charges at one another in a dispute over travel by Commissioner Molnar. This video captures the exchange before recess in which the commission members Travis Kavulla and Bill Gallagher traded allegations of impropriety at one another:

Kavulla alleged that former Chairman Gallagher has been using his PSC office to run his private legal practice, and that Gallagher conspired with Commissioner Molnar to keep the latter’s travel to a FERC conference in Washington secret from the commission and the public.

Gallagher alleged that Commissioner Kavulla has engaged in secret travel of his own, and plans to hold another work session to investigate information that Kavulla has withheld from the commission, specifically that he traveled to Las Vegas to speak to a utility investors conference, posted his destination to the commission calendar and subsequently removed it. Perhaps more seriously, Gallagher alleged that Commissioner Kavulla has had inappropriate contact with both utility and investor groups against the advice of the PSC’s legal counsel.

Gallagher concluded his criticism of Kavulla by saying that he does “not have the integrity, the maturity, or the character” necessary to chair the PSC.

Commissioner Molnar argued that the entire proceeding and allegations of secrecy were nothing more than “political hyperbole,” arguing that the investigation is “ego-building, power-seeking.” Alluding to Kavulla, he argued that, “If one person has learned the power of three out of five, if they decide to sow discontent, do personal empire building, self-aggrandizement, you’re going to have that.”

A few things seem quite clear. For one, the GOP leadership at the PSC is completely incapable of governing their meetings. Their petty feuding and personal animus towards one another will lead to continued bickering and political theatrics that will make the Montana House look like a responsible government body. For another, Chairman Kavulla has finally achieved his stated aim of assuming the role of PSC chair, no matter what it took to achieve it.

Finally, there are some important questions the public and press need to ask. Can the PSC do its job under these commissioners? Is Commissioner Kavulla meeting inappropriately with industry and investors? Is Commissioner Gallagher illegally using his state office to conduct a private business? Why did Chairman Kavulla, the champion of transparency, only make that allegation to retaliate against Gallagher today rather than raising the issue sooner?

It’s clear that the GOP majority on the PSC needs to get its act together, but it’s hard to imagine how that will happen.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

34 Comments

  • Hey Pogreba — Nice salacious post, but quite unrepresentative of reality. You can get a fuller explanation of why PSC Democrats and I joined together on this particular issue here. http://electriccityweblog.com/?p=12599

    As to whether the PSC can do its job: What’s the last rate case you followed, Pogreba? The last major vote on the PSC (to make a settlement offer to NorthWestern regarding the last general rate case) was 4-1, with 2 Repubs (Gallagher and I) and the 2 Democrats voting in favor. A solid 90% of PSC business is so technical that it defies easy partisan categorization, although there are plenty of people (yourself, Brad Molnar, etc.) who are eager to make it partisan, whatever the flavor. As a commissioner, I think there’s a real need to rise above party at those times when it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. Quite frankly, I look forward to the PSC returning to its status as a rather boring, technical watchdog. —Travis Kavulla

    • Those who are likely to focus on the boring, technical parts of the PSC, and those who write articles referring to Montana’s senior senator as a ‘babbling monstrosity’, are rarely the same people. Accusing other commissioners of law breaking is far more characteristic of the second personality type, not the first type which you are claiming to represent.

    • Though I would add, I admire you for actually coming here and speaking your piece on topic, rather than coming here and attacking Pogie’s professional record like some commissioners. And I went to your website after reading your comment and I do like a lot of what you had to say there. You’re an interesting political personality in Montana; you ought to at least make it interesting for the establishment in the next few years.

  • Travis, you accused a fellow commissioner of breaking state law at the meeting, in public and on the record. And you didn’t do anything about it except use it as a threat once Mr. Gallagher publicly called you out for behavior that went against the counsel of the PSC attorneys. I look forward to hearing more about your “unpopular” view that the PSC should be concerned with what investors think about their work.

    I have no partisan interest in the PSC. Like most Montanans, I haven’t followed it as closely as I should have. Of course, you all have done an excellent job of bringing attention to the commission this time around. I’d love to see the PSC return to its role, too. Certainly my “salacious” post hasn’t been responsible for the PSC’s failure to do just that.

    If anything my post was pretty tame. Public officials accusing each other on the record of breaking the law and violating ethics is relatively rare. I hope some enterprising members of the media follow up. I’d hate to think that we’d allow our elected officials to make such wild claims without someone looking into them.

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