Bullock Staffer Threatens Press After Infrastructure Spending Plan Leaked

Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s Communications Director Dave Parker threatened the state’s largest newspaper yesterday after the governor’s plans to announce $45 million in infrastructure spending in Eastern Montana were leaked to the press prior to the governor’s office sending out an official press release.

Yesterday afternoon the Billings Gazette posted a story by reporter Tom Lutey about Bullock’s plans to announce a $45 million aid package to Eastern Montana communities affected by the Bakken oil boom as part of a four-city “whistlestop tour” of Culberston, Sidney, Glendive, and Billings. Apparently, when Lutey called Bullock’s office for comment, Dave Parker threatened to cut off the Gazette from further press advisories if it reported on the aid package.

“Bullock’s communications director, Dave Parker, would not elaborate on the funding mechanisms for the aid package, and then threatened to exclude The Gazette from further advisories from the governor if the newspaper reported on the aid package before the governor’s whistle stop tour,” Lutey wrote.

Interestingly, it was not Lutey or the Billings Gazette that first broke the story about the governor’s plans. It was actually Aaron Flint of the Northern Broadcasting System. Flint posted information about the tour from the governor’s Economic Development Office on his blog “The Flint Report” after it was forwarded to him by a tipster in Eastern Montana.

Amidst questions about where the program’s money would come from, Lutey and Flint both reported that the aid package would consist of “local government grants” and loans from the State Revolving Fund. This morning, the Missoulian reported that the project would be paid for with state bonds and would need the approval of the state legislature.

The governor’s office has received major backlash on social media over its threat to the Gazette and from state legislators who point out that a $35 million infrastructure bill for the Bakken Region was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2013 only to be controversially vetoed by Bullock. Even if the plan goes through, it still means that funding for needed infrastructure projects in Eastern Montana is at least over a year away.

Editor’s Note 4/18/2014 at 2:31 PM: Corrected spelling from “Sydney” to “Sidney.”