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HELENA (AP) — Republicans said Wednesday that a legislative fundraiser held this week at the governor's mansion breaks a state ban on using government resources for political work — a complaint very reminiscent of one lodged against the GOP when it controlled the office.

The Monday event was raising money for Billings Democrat Kendall Van Dyk, who is locked in a fierce race with incumbent state Sen. Roy Brown, and was hosted by a long list of top Democrats.

Brown challenged Schweitzer in 2008 for the governor's seat and been targeted by his Democratic opponents. The contest between Van Dyk and Brown has been setting new highs for spending in a legislative race.

An invitation to Monday's event lists Schweitzer, attorney general Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Superintendent Denise Juneau, Auditor Monica Lindeen and other prominent Democrats among the lengthy list of co-hosts.

Suggested donations to Van Dyk were $160 for the sponsors and $100 for others.

Brown said he thinks holding a fundraiser on state property is "clearly illegal," and breaks an ethics law ban on using taxpayer-owned property for political fundraising.

"He may be living in it temporarily, but it is still the property of the state of Montana," Brown said.

Democrats defended it as perfectly appropriate, pointing out the mansion is the governor's residence where he conducts a whole host of personal business.

Ironically, the roles are reversed from a complaint 14 years ago against former Gov. Marc Racicot.

Democrats are now adopting the same defense Racicot used in 1996 — when he was accused by Democrats of breaking the state ban by holding a fundraiser for then Lt. Gov. Denny Rehberg.

Racicot argued there was an exception that allowed for political work incidental to authorized activity. He pointed out he was authorized to live in the residence, and the fundraising was incidental to living there.

Schweitzer spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said the current administration agrees.

"The executive residence is the governor's home. Like Gov. Marc Racicot, Gov. Schweitzer has receptions in his home," she said in a statement. "We agree with Gov. Racicot that the law allows the governor to use his residence for a candidate reception because under the Montana code such a use is 'properly incidental to another activity required or authorized by law.'"

Van Dyk, the Democrat battling for the Billings Senate seat, said he was happy to have the governor's help with the fundraiser and doesn't think there's anything at all unusual about it.

"This is just grasping for straws, this is just them grasping," he said.

Democrats did not file a formal complaint in 1996 with the commissioner of political practices, and Republicans have so far not filed one against Schweitzer — leaving the potential gray area in law unresolved.

Current Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth said he would have to review a formal complaint and defense before passing judgment.

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