Montana Politics

Bill Gallagher Levels Specific Allegations Against Commissioner Kavulla at PSC: Chairgate and Vegasgate!


While it seems to have escaped the notice of the Montana media, the PSC work session on May 10th ended with Commissioner Bill Gallagher leveling accusations of ethics violations against Chairman Travis Kavulla. Gallagher claimed that Kavulla, in a trip to Las Vegas to speak to utility investors, violated the law in three ways:

  • that he has demonstrated a “defiant insistence to meet with with lobbyists and utility investors.”
  • that he, while in Las Vegas, inappropriately took a personal trip to Arizona to watch a college basketball game.
  • that he inappropriately received gifts of travel, food, and lodging for the expenses for his expenses during the Las Vegas trip.

Gallagher initially called for an in-house investigation, independent investigation, or an investigation by the Commissioner of Political Practices, but action was delayed pending a continuation of the meeting. Commissioner Gallagher sent 36 questions to Kavulla—and plans to continue this discussion once he has reviewed Kavulla’s response.

At the core, the allegations rest on the idea that Commissioner Kavulla is engaging in inappropriate meetings with utility investors and lobbyists. Commissioner Kavulla, both at the meeting and in an interview in late April, argues that not only are such meetings permissible under the “Blue Book” that governs the PSC, but that past commissioners have had similar meetings and attended conferences like the one in Las Vegas.

Gallagher’s allegations aren’t new—and don’t seem entirely honest. During the April 15th meeting that saw Commissioner Gallagher unseated as chairman, he made these same claims and asserted that the PSC counsel has issued a legal opinion arguing that Kavulla’s trip was inappropriate. When I contacted both Commissioner Gallagher and PSC counsel Al Brogan, I was told that “no such opinion or memo” existed. It’s certainly troubling that Commissioner Gallagher would make an unfounded accusation premised on a legal opinion that simply does not exist.

Gallagher also claimed that Kavulla had traveled from Las Vegas to Arizona to watch a basketball game, seeming to ignore that sporting contests are often broadcast in the betting capital of North America.

Kavulla responded to the accusations angrily, suggesting that Commissioner Gallagher was “sliming” both Kavulla and other commissioners who have attended similar meetings. Alluding to the chairmanship debacle, Kavulla told Gallagher he “needs to get over it, to do the job the people of Montana elected you to do.” He further claimed that Gallagher had requested four work sessions, “not one a case before the PSC, all extraneous, grasping at straws attempts to malign others.”

Kavulla raises a fair point. It seems clear that Commissioner Gallagher is so upset about losing the chairmanship that he is determined to expend his energy attacking Commissioner Kavulla rather than doing the work of the PSC.

Before the discussion about the Las Vegas trip, Gallagher actually raised the critical issue of seating arrangements at PSC meetings, because he apparently believes that five adults are incapable of seating themselves at a desk with six seats, including one for the secretary at the meeting.

When Kavulla argued that Gallagher was wasting the time of the commission, Gallagher responded by arguing that Kavulla’s “habit of demeaning those who you disagree with is not only annoying, but it is unbecoming for your position as chairman.”

Whether it’s “grasping at straws” or “unbecoming,” the actions of the GOP majority during the past few months have clearly been inappropriate—and a distraction from the business of the PSC. It’s time for Commissioners Gallagher and Molnar to put aside their petulant childishness and do their jobs.

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.


  • Nothing really new here.  If one had read Kavulla’s comments from the time he started posting at ECWB, it would be easy to see that he is definitely industry’s child.  Kavulla is a supposed wunderkind who, instead of realizing his full potential in a competitive field of business somewhere where he may actually have to prove himself, chose the much easier path to success by becoming an elected industry pimp.  He makes no bones about it.  He IS an industry pimp.  There is NO resource extraction method no matter HOW damaging to the environment that he is averse to.  Seriously.  He is of the mindset that we can absolutely drill and dig our way to energy independence.  And, relatedly, he believes that industry knows best!

    THIS is who Kavulla is.  Gallagher is simply pointing this out.  Ya just have to wonder just WHO paid for all those ubiquitous yellow signs that plastered the entire region when Kavulla was running.  Industry found a dupe, and Kavulla found a job.  And Kavulla is definitely NOT shy to promote a fascist agenda.  The dude is without scruples.  We better get used to that until the next election.  Even if Kavulla is defeated, which he may very well be, he will be welcomed into an industry job after proving his creds.  He is NO friend to the consumer nor the environment.

    And since I know that the wunderkind reads these blogs, I challenge him to state just ONE method of resource extraction that he finds objectionable.  It doesn’t exist for him.  It’s rape and ruin all the way.  And if the PSC can facilitate that, so much the better!  Right trav?

    • p.s.  The problem with electing someone so young as Kavula is that he has NO sense of history at all.  He simply hasn’t lived enough.  Hell, Coalstrip had been existence for twenty some YEARS before he was even born.  Ya know, experience counts for sumthin’!  Industry loves a newby.  It’s all new to them.  It’s reinvent the wheel time to them.  That’s why industry LOATHES a guy like Ken Toole.  Toole’s been there, done that.  Kavula’s learnin’ curve, if he even HAS one, is bout thirty, forty years behind.  Even the most BIZARRE energy idea sounds just great to trav.  Why?  Because he simply doesn’t have a clue. 

    • Larry, this is what Kavulla wrote about wind power: 

      Some states, independent of the federal government, have imposed
      “green” energy requirements. Our state would be foolish not to take
      advantage of the regulatory trends of coastal states, which have large
      populations but a lack of electric-generation resources.

      Our state has the third-most wind-generating potential in the United States. Conceivably, we could generate tens of thousands
      of Megawatts in clean energy. Yet we have fallen behind Wyoming and
      Texas in doing so. We would have hundreds of new wind energy projects
      were it not for our clogged transmission lines, which are maxed out and
      must be supplemented by new, heavy power lines to bring this valuable
      commodity out-of-state. I support transmission in general, and in
      particular I favor projects like the Chinook Line, which expressly
      brings “green” power from wind farms to out-of-state consumers of
      “green” energy (without muddling Montana’s cheap coal power, which
      should be reserved for Montana consumers, into the mix).
      ===end quote===

      As I recall he favors Montana keeping the “green energy” requirement.   You and Molnar are two pees in the same pod.  Why do you oppose green energy?

      • I for one think that Kavulla does have a lot of interesting ideas, at least on his website.   As much as he says he wants the PSC to be boring and technical, he’s definitely interested in image, and that image is of the iconoclast.  I’m not sure that’s what is going to make the PSC run smoothly, but the current disarray in the PSC seems to be at least equally the fault of Gallagher and Molnar, who feel rightly threatened by Kavulla’s ambition, his popularity and his seemingly genuine desire to shake things up a bit. 

        • Popularity?  Source please.    And really, do we REALLY want someone who is going to “shake things up”?   How bout simply responsible work?  Why are Pubbies always such drama queens?  This is NOT good governance.

          • No, I’m not sure we want someone to shake things up.  It may well make things very difficult, and just because it makes things difficult for entrenched politicians doesn’t mean it actually makes it better for us.  But I think Kavulla’s policies are probably better than Gallagher or Molnar, even though his attitude may be more disruptive.  Hopefully the chaos in the short term will lead to more transparency in the long run. 

      • “two pees”?  Well, I guess that’s better than two shits!  Gotcha!  But seriously, I read kavulla for a couple of years at ECWB, and I  based my observations of him on those readings, not a single quote as you have done.  He is absolutely NOT an environmentally minded member of the PSC.  And he lacks credible experience at anything.  I am definitely not saying that he is worse than molnar.  Time will tell though.  Again, I prefer someone with the experience of Ken Toole. 

  • Here’s the problem I have with a dude as young as Kavulla heading the PSC.  He has NO idea, NONE, about global climate change for he hasn’t LIVED long enough to seriously understand and appreciate the change.  To him, massive F5 tornadoes are the norm.  Well, they didn’t USED to be!  And if one doesn’t understand climate change and global warming, one will willingly BELIEVE all the industrial strength industy bullsh*t.  And that’s real sad. 

    Global climate change is NOT good even though the rightwing bozos in our Lege believe it to be.  Digging and drilling is NOT the way of a productive, viable, liveable future.  Yet that is EXACLTY what Kavulla believes.

    Maybe he should head on back to Joplin, Mo. for a visit and ask the folks there what they think of global warming now!  He’s been educated, now he needs an education!, the kind that you don’t get from being young! In other words, he needs to grow up quick and develop some adult type skepticism regarind the industry pukes whispering in his ear!  Oh sure, it feels good to have industry court you, but that is NOT what we need.

    Unless one is a rabid end-timer waiting around for the rapture, one must do their part to provide a viable planet for the coming generations.  From the Kavulla stuff I’ve read, he absolutely rejects the global climate change models.  He firmly believes in growth for the sake of growth and to hell with the consequences.

    Now, if I’m wrong, I’ll gladly stand corrected.  But I’m stil waiting for trav to indicate just WHICH, if any, extraction methods he finds objectionable.  Guess he’s too busy fighting with Moldnar to respond.

  • Kavulla is perhaps the most ignorant educated man I have ever encountered. It’s the arrogance that is off-putting, the impenetrable notion that he alone has figured out how economies work. This leads him to introduce radical ideas into practice without sufficient testing, as evidence for this set is always explained away by blaming every failure somehow on government.

    Too bad he is not being held up for scrutiny by better methods.

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