By BOB ANEZ Associated Press Writer
HELENA - A communications instructor said Monday that public service announcements featuring Secretary of State Bob Brown were designed to highlight him and not his message about changes in Montana election laws.
Everything about the TV spots, including when they aired, was meant to make Brown a more familiar name to Montanans as he campaigned for the Republican nomination for governor, said Susan Balter-Reitz, an associate professor at Montana State University-Billings.
''Both visually and textually, the PSAs are designed in a way to give prominence to Bob Brown,'' she said during a hearing here before state Political Practices Commissioner Linda Vaughey.
Reitz's testimony buttressed allegations by Brown's GOP rival, Pat Davison, that Brown's appearance in the TV ads violated an ethics law banning use of public time and money to promote a candidacy.
But an employee in Brown's office who produced the ads said the announcements or PSAs were not intended to aid Brown's run for governor.
Brown, as the state's chief elections officer, was the logical face to put on the office responsible for implementing changes required under the federal Help America Vote Act, said Amy Sullivan, coordinator of the project.
''I designed those ads to educate voters on the changes under HAVA (Help America Vote Act),'' she testified. ''I believe voters want to know where these changes came from.''
With the June 8 primary two weeks away, a decision by Vaughey on whether Brown's use of the PSA's was a violation of ethics laws is not expected until next week. That's when she also will decide on whether another allegation by Davison against Brown should be the subject of a second hearing.
That charge claims that Brown's relationship with Jason Thielman, his campaign manager and a former deputy in the secretary of state's office, violates a ban on state officials having private business dealings with employees they supervise.
The accusations against Brown were leveled by Davison campaign manager Scot Crockett on April 7, just two days after a Brown supporter challenged the qualifications of Davison's running mate. Vaughey has since agreed that Dave Mihalic does not meet the residency requirement to be lieutenant governor.
At Monday's hearing, Reitz said her analysis of the four PSAs in which Brown appeared found his prominence in the ads detracted from the effort to educate voters about changes in election laws.
She also questioned why the various announcements aired for seven months, rather than being concentrated just before the primary election when citizens would most need the information. The frequent airing of the spots would mostly ingrain Brown's name in the minds of voters, even though the ads never mentioned he was running for governor.
''All that matters is that the name is consistently repeated,'' she said. ''The whole idea is just to get Bob Brown's name out there.''
However, Sullivan said the PSAs were broadcast so often to ensure Montanans knew about important changes in the law, including a requirement to show identification when voting.
''I wanted those ads to be a like a drumbeat,'' she said. ''It was meant to be a drumbeat that no one could miss.''
The ads have been running so long because the new laws took effect Jan. 1 and dozens of elections have occurred throughout the state this year, long before the upcoming primary, Sullivan said.
She said the new federal law triggering the changes requires states to educate voters about the new requirements and the PSAs featuring Brown were just one part of that effort.
The secretary of state's office has spent about $900,000 on that education process and the four ads with Brown cost $129,639, she said.