Bill Gallagher has been an embarrassment for much of his tenure on the Public Service Commission, but his latest fact-challenged, politically motivated defense of corporate secrecy may represent the height of his shame. Instead of protecting the public interest (presumably the function of the Public Service Commission), Gallagher has issued a strident and misleading defense of an indefensible position: that utilities need not make public the compensation of their executives.
Under the guise of “asking questions” Gallagher attacked a potential political rival, misled about the nature of the lawsuit against the PSC, and obfuscated about legal “duplication”—to make protect the right of a monopolistic public utility to pay whatever salary it wants under the cover of secrecy.
In his rambling, strawperson-filled defense of the right of corporations to hide salary information from the public, Gallagher went to great pains not to name the company at the center of this dispute, California-based Mountain Water, which provides water to the city of Missoula. He also failed to mention that the company sought a 12% increase in water rates near the same time it challenged the PSC’s executive pay rule.
The Missoulian’s Red Tape blog provided a redacted version of the kinds of salaries Mountain Water’s parent company pays its executives, illustrating exactly why the public deserves access to this information.
Republican Commissioner Travis Kavulla made the best case for public disclosure:
“These are companies who have a legal entitlement to a monopoly,” he says. “On what basis should their salaries be private? People should absolutely know what those salaries are, just like people know what I’m getting paid.”
At its core, Gallagher’s position is that, rather than fighting to keep the public informed, the PSC should do the legal work of a corporation seeking to exploit its monopoly status. Mr. Gallager’s infantile, poorly reasoned attacks on former commissioner Ken Toole (D) and current commissioner Travis Kavulla (R) don’t hide the simple fact that he’s working against the interest of the public, rather than protecting it.