Montana governor's airplane

The State of Montana’s airplane prepares for take-off from Belgrade carrying Gov. Steve Bullock back to Helena on Feb. 16.

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The Montana commissioner of political practices ruled Thursday that Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2016 campaign for governor violated expense reports regarding the use of the state’s plane.

The complaint was filed Oct. 28, 2016, by Jason Ellsworth of Hamilton and alleged that Friends of Steve Bullock, Bullock’s official campaign party, failed to fully reimburse airfare-related costs to the state.

State law says that pilots flying the state’s plane working more than 40 hours per week should bill the appropriate party for the overtime.

Jeff Mangan, commissioner of the Office of Political Practices, said in his decision that the reimbursement policy was followed, including reimbursement costs associated with the state aircraft. But the decision said the role of the commissioner is to determine that the expenditure was appropriate, reasonable, fully and timely reported on the required schedule.

“On nine occasions, the campaign failed to timely report actual or estimated expenditures for state plane use reimbursement, thus violating Montana’s campaign finance laws for failure to timely report,” the report says.

Ronja Abel, a spokesperson for Bullock, issued a statement Thursday after the decision was made.

“The commissioner has ruled that the reimbursement policy established by the governor’s office was appropriate,” Abel said in the statement. “As for the paperwork error, the campaign will work with the commissioner to make amends.”

The commissioner’s report also said that the failure to fully and timely report and disclose cannot generally be excused by oversight and ignorance. The report will be handed over to the Lewis and Clark County attorney because the violation occurred there.

Magnan said what usually happens is the case will be sent back to the commissioner’s office.

“If it gets back to us, we’ll work with the Bullock campaign to come up with a settlement in this matter, which would likely be a fine and the reports corrected,” Mangan said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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