By Tim Leeds
When Hill County Attorney David Rice prepared to announce his bid for re-election, he typed his press release on county time on county letterhead and mailed it with county postage. He admitted today that doing so violated Montana law.
"The statutes are pretty broad," Rice, a Democrat, said. "I don't consider what I did to be any significant violation but I guess technically I did."
The section of Montana law dealing with ethics in government says public officers or employees may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funds to solicit support for nomination or election of a candidate to public office.
When asked about his annoucement this morning, Rice said printing the announcement on county letterhead wasn't an appropriate thing to do. He said he won't use county supplies in his campaign again and will advise anyone who asks him about it in the future to avoid violating the code.
Rice said the state code of ethics has so many nuances and technicalities that it's difficult to never violate some of the statutes. For example, he said, giving a politician, like the governor, a tour of a county office and introducing her to staffers could be seen as campaigning and in violation of the code. Most of the officials in the courthouse have probably done that at one time or another, he said.
The commissioner of political practices has jurisdiction over the code of ethics section of state law.
If a complaint is filed, the commissioner holds an informal hearing if the case is accepted and issues a decision on whether the official has breached his or her public duty. If the commissioner decides the code has been violated, an administrative penalty of $50 to $1,000 may be imposed, along with the cost of the proceeding. The commissioner also can recommend disciplinary action by the agency employing the violator.
If the commissioner decides no violation has occurred, the costs of the proceeding can be assessed against the person bringing the complaint.
Judicial review of commissioner decisions is through the state District Court.