Gov. Bullock settles campaign violation over state airplane

The Associated Press

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has agreed to settle a campaign violation complaint involving his use of the state airplane during his 2016 reelection bid.

Bullock and his 2016 campaign organization “Friends of Steve Bullock,” have agreed to pay a $3,000 fine to avoid a lawsuit involving governor’s use of the state plane for campaign purposes during the Democrat’s successful reelection bid.

On 35 occasions, Bullock used the the state airplane for politicking, but the kept the flights off his campaign finance books for several months, in some cases until weeks after he was reelected.

All told, Bullock’s campaign used the government plane 41 times, usually piggybacking campaign events onto trips for official business. Tax dollars paid for the trips, unless the pilot’s work week exceeded 40 hours, in which case Bullock’s campaign paid for the overtime.

The governor’s campaign also picked up any extra time incurred by copilots.

In Montana, the public has a right to full disclosure of all of a candidate’s debts, estimated debts. Those debts are supposed to be reported on schedule. Bullock failed to do so.

Criticism of Bullock’s use of the state plane for campaigning started in February after the governor piggybacked a Billings campaign fundraiser onto a an official trip to make peanut butter sandwiches for a Billings schools lunch program.

Campaign flights taken in April and June didn’t show up on the books until August. Flights in July and September weren’t reported until 16 days before the general election ended. Bullock’s October campaign trips went unreported until Nov. 28.

All of the flights should have been reported within a month of occurring, according to Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan. By not reporting the flights, Bullock avoided Republican campaign messaging about the trips.

Hamilton resident Jason Ellsworth filed the against Bullock with the Commissioner of Political Practices last October.