Lt. Gov. Cooney used Capitol office during campaign-related call

(KPAX) Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who’s running for governor, used his Capitol office last month to participate in a campaign conference call, MTN News has learned – a possible violation of state law.

Cooney, one of two Democrats running for Montana’s open governor seat, spent about a half-hour on the April 13 call with the Democratic Governors Association, discussing campaign strategy, his campaign confirmed Monday.

MTN News obtained a screenshot of Cooney during the video conference call, showing him sitting on a couch in the lieutenant governor’s office in the east wing of the Capitol.

State ethics law says public officeholders are prohibited from using “public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funds” to solicit support or opposition to any candidate.

The Cooney campaign told MTN News that Cooney used a personal laptop for the call and that no state personnel, equipment or supplies were involved. His opponent in the Democratic primary, Missoula businesswoman Whitney Williams, also participated in the call, his campaign said.

Cooney campaign manager Emily Harris said Monday that circulation of the picture of Cooney on the call “is nothing more than an attempt to distract voters from what really matters in this election: electing a governor with tested leadership Montanans can trust.”

The winner of the Democratic primary on June 2 will take on the Republican nominee and a Green Party and Libertarian candidate this fall.

Cooney’s campaign said the call is an “isolated incident” because Cooney was on a tight schedule between meetings, and needing to be on a subsequent tele-town hall with Gov. Steve Bullock on the Covid-19 crisis.

“The lieutenant governor does not routinely listen to these sorts of calls in his office and regrets if this isolated incident amounted to a technical contravention of the rule … cited,” his campaign said in a statement. “He was unavoidedly in the office because he is helping lead Montana through a once-in-a-century crisis. …

“The lieutenant governor conducts all of his political fundraising and other work for his campaign at home or in a private office.”

No ethics complaint has been filed against Cooney related to the call.