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.