DOJ: News Release

McGrath Issues AG Opinion on Constituent Service Accounts

HELENA – In a formal opinion released today, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that state law limits the use of constituent services accounts by elected officials and provides that only surplus campaign funds may be used for such accounts.

Public Service Commission Chairman Greg Jergeson requested the opinion in relation to his fellow commissioner Brad Molnar. Jergeson asked what funds an office holder may spend on constituent services.

Montana law requires a person who has surplus campaign funds to dispose of the extra funds within 120 days of filing a closing campaign report. Legislation from 2007 added language to the statute, allowing elected officials — including PSC commissioners — to establish a “constituent services account.” Elected officials may deposit only surplus campaign funds in constituent services accounts, and the money in the account may be spent only for constituent services, like mailing and travel costs.

The attorney general held that an elected official may pay for constituent services from a constituent services account, personal funds or an active campaign account. He or she may not, however, use any account “related to” his or her office.

McGrath noted that nothing in the statute “precludes use of funds from a personal account for any purpose, including the provision of constituent services.”

Jergeson also asked when the most recent changes to the law went into effect. McGrath found that the limitations established in 2007 were in effect after May 14, 2007, the day the governor signed the legislation.

The attorney general declined to address one of Jergeson’s questions because some of the facts related to it are in dispute. That question — on whether Molnar appropriately spent money donated by private interests — is also pending before the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the laws involved.

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