State Auditor Lindeen Orders Internal Investigation on The Walter Schweitzer Affair Part II

by jhwygirl

We’ll give the link to the Great Falls Tribune, which broke the story this past Sunday – State Auditor Monica Lindeen – “in an abundance of caution,” has ordered an independent investigation into allegations by fired/terminated/resigned state (who knows?) administrator Laura McGee that Walter Schweitzer, Deputy State Auditor, had harassed Ms. McGee and solicited political funds on the state’s dime.

From the GFT:

McGee also said Schweitzer on several occasions solicited campaign funds from his sub-ordinates. The federal Hatch Act forbids such political activity if the agency receives federal funding.

The auditor’s office Web site showed that more than half the agency’s funding was federal, but spokeswoman Jessica Rhoades said that information was outdated and has been corrected.

“That (federal) funding was also a pass-through to counties and doesn’t apply to any of our programs, so the Hatch Act would not apply anyway,” Rhoades added.

(Please note that GFT links are only live for about 2 weeks.)

That would explain why the original story’s reference to the Hatch Act disappeared….

Here’s another version of the same story on Lindeen ordering an internal investigation, this time from the Flathead Beacon:

Lindeen said she wants to make sure with the external investigation that staff followed state ethics policies and laws. The auditor said the agency already has determined with an internal investigation that similar federal laws don’t apply to the state office.

(cont.)Rhoades said that Lindeen is currently reviewing candidates to conduct the outside investigation. She said an internal investigation was made when McGee first made the allegations.

Rhoades said that she could not say any more on what that found, other than that federal law does not apply to the office.

Reading both of those stories, what I see is a focus by Lindeen’s office on the fact that the previous internal investigation focused on whether there was a violation of the federal Hatch Act.

Anyone find it strange that the apparent defense that ‘nothing was wrong’ was that whatever it was that occurred didn’t violate any federal laws? Not a defense that is rooted in ‘it didn’t occur’?

Enough of that…

I also see that the focus of the next internal investigation is going to be whether there was any violation of state policies or ethics laws.

Jessica Rhodes, spokesperson for Auditor Monica Lindeen, says that Lindeen also “wants to take this opportunity to conduct a review of agency policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with state ethics laws.”

Good for Lindeen. This is a smart move. She can’t and shouldn’t allow the serious allegations out there just hang. If she had just handed this investigation over to Political Practices Commissioner (and Governor Schweitzer appointee) Dennis Unsworth, anything he came up with would have automatically have been dismissed by critics merely because of whom appointed him, even though Unsworth has proven himself to be a fair arbitrator. I think, ultimately, though, that she should hand whatever her investigation finds over to Unsworth for a final pass – as it is his office’s responsibility to determine what violates state ethics laws.

Further, her investigation – whether it finds a violation or not – could educate Montanans on what state ethics laws allow and what it doesn’t. That all rests, of course, on the truthfulness behind the allegations.

Anyone want to bet on how many senate or house bills that this spawns in the 62nd legislative session?

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