The Corner

Democrat in Montana Senate Race Faces Ethics Charges

In the wake of Obamacare fiascos, Democrats are pulling out all the stops to ensure they keep their Senate majority this November.

In Montana, they’ve engineered a switcher so that retiring senator Max Baucus will become ambassador to China. That will allow Democratic governor Steve Bullock to appoint John Walsh, the leading Democratic candidate for Baucus’s seat, to fill the Senate vacancy for this year. John Walsh, who is Bullock’s hand-picked lieutenant governor, would then have greater name-ID, fundraising clout, and the ability to steer federal dollars to Montana — giving him a leg-up over Representative Steve Daines, the GOP candidate for the Senate seat. Daines is the current favorite to capture the seat for Republicans, in part because Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama in the state by 14 points in 2012.

If Walsh is appointed it will be in spite of serious ethical charges lodged against him when he was head of the Montana National Guard. A 2010 U.S. Army inspector general’s report found that Walsh had improperly used his position for personal gain. It also said he had improperly used government resources and improperly used a non-federal entity.

But Walsh kept his job and was never disciplined because his boss at the time, then–Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer deep-sixed the inspector general’s findings. 

“I treated it with the respect it deserved, I put in in the round file,” the former governor told reporters this week. “I might have said I don’t give a damn what the Department of Defense thinks. It would certainly not be the only [federal] agency that I had a run-in with.”

He went on to impugn the integrity of the office of the inspector general, saying it had focused on “much ado about nothing” and claiming its report was “a completely partisan end run in the National Guard attempting to embarrass [Walsh].”

That will come as a surprise to Washington observers who have long praised the various inspector generals for their role as honest brokers and fact-finders. The report criticizing Walsh came two years into the Obama administration, and followed up on complaints from Montana National Guard troops who said Walsh had coerced them into paying dues to join a private lobbying group, the National Guard Association of the United States. Walsh was on the board of directors of the national group and was running for office to be its vice chairman.

Walsh dismisses any suggestion that he strong-armed anyone, and told reporters this week he will formally seek the Senate appointment from his boss, Governor Bullock. But the scandal and the subsequent papering-over of the inspector general’s report is sure to be an issue in the Senate race. Don’t be surprised if some of the National Guard troops who felt intimidated by Walsh appear in a TV commercial revisiting the issue.