It shouldn't have taken the skills of a law professor, months of dragging things out, hours of testimony, and thousands in legal fees to know that the governor broke a law that he himself signed into law when he had state-funded employees using state-owned equipment make public service announcements that included his re-election campaign slogan of "Montana is on the Move."
But, even if the wheels of justice turn slowly, one hopes that they grind exceedingly fine, as the saying goes. And indeed the final judgment was against the governor and a fine was levied. He got off lucky, since he could have been fined $1000 per occurrence, and the ads were sent to multiple radio stations and presumably aired more than once.
The point was whether the governor was wrong -- and the official judgment is that he was. He of course knew he was, and yet he first attempted to bluster his way out of it, and then it appears that he tried some back-door communication with the Political Practices office to mitigate the disaster he saw coming. If so, those efforts may have been successful, since the final judgment was for a symbolic amount of money that will appear to many to be a mere slap on the wrist -- and since the final judgment includes language that refers to ambiguity in the law (although in the final analysis, the legislative intent was not found to be ambiguous.)
The governor gets some ammunition with which to blow more smoke screens to obfuscate the fact that he broke the law. As we have stated before, this could all have gone away with a little humility on the part of the governor and his staff, but they decided to go for broke -- which was a mistake. The worst part of this for the governor was not that he made the ads, it was rather that he attempted, in essence to cover it up by claiming that he really hadn't broken the law, even though the plain and obvious language of the law as interpreted by an ordinary non-lawyer was, well, plain and obvious.
This is the first time that the governor has not been able to skate smoothly around a controversy. This was never going to be a scandal that would break the governor's political fortunes, but it has put a little tarnish on his gleaming armor which had seemed so untouchable. Political death by a thousand cuts starts with a single nick...