Thursday, May 06, 2010

Stimulus money scratches Montana legislator's itch

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HELENA - A state lawmaker carved money out of last year's stimulus spending bill for an energy study shortly before investing in a company to help get that money, according to newly released documents.

Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad used his position on the House Appropriations Committee last March to propose an amendment to carve out $475,000 for a biomass energy study. E-mails obtained by The Associated Press show that Jones was also actively contemplating starting a company to get that money.

Jones defended the arrangement, saying he never used any influence to make sure the state granted the money to the company he was involved with. He said Porter Bench Energy won the grant on its merits in a competitive bid run by the Department of Commerce.

"I am not sure that Commerce was even aware that I was involved, because I thought if they were aware, that could be used as leverage. Either it was scored up or it wasn't, and that's what was done," Jones said.

Jones asked the state's ethics chief in early May of last year if there would be anything wrong with him helping launch a company that would seek a state contract for a biomass energy study, according to e-mails. The commissioner of political practices declined to rule on the issue, and forwarded him to the legislative staff attorney - who told him it would probably be legal.