Governor Bullock Brought Meg O’Leary to Paul McCartney Concert Instead of First Lady, State Plane Use Questioned
When the state plane flew to Missoula for the Paul McCartney Concert in August of 2014, Governor Bullock was joined by Montana Department of Commerce Director Meg O'Leary. Oddly, Meg O'Leary wasn't specifically invited, but Montana taxpayers funded the trip anyway.
After KGVO News raised questions about Bullock's use of state taxpayer money to fly to the concert, Bullock Spokesman Tim Crowe said the Governor was in town on state business for two meetings, one at the Washington Ranch, the other at the University of Montana, but it is a big stretch to call either of these meetings "state business."
Yes, Bullock did meet members from Washington Corporation, including Denny Washington, but the meeting was described by Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation Director Mike Halligan as "informal" in a recent story by MTN News reporter Mike Denisson: MTN analysis: Gov. Bullock uses state airplane about the same as prior governor. The meeting was also likely pretty short as the state plane with Bullock and O'Leary landed just about an hour before the doors opened for the Paul McCartney Concert where Bullock was later photographed. Furthermore, the meeting occurred up in Grant Creek, at least 15 minutes away from the concert venue. If an informal meeting with the governor by any businessperson in the state can be considered state business, then Montana has entered a new era of taxpayer funded travel.
KGVO news reached out to the University of Montana to find out the nature of the concert invitation and whether or not there were "economic developers and state employees in attendance," as Governor Bullocks spokesman Tim Crowe said after the original story broke. University of Montana Director of Communications Paula Short said invitations were sent to the Governor and that "there are 48 invitees for the President’s Box. They include guests of the UM Foundation, University faculty and administrators, etc."
When asked if Meg O'Leary or any other state employees were directly invited, Short said: "No." Short also specified that the original names on the box seats were for Governor Bullock and the First Lady, but that the invitation allows for a "guest" to join.
KGVO asked for a copy of the invitation which reads: President Royce Engstrom and Mary Engstrom invite you and a guest to join them in the President’s Box to watch Sir Paul McCartney as he performs his “Out There” concert. There is no reference to anything related to state business. Though state business might be discussed at an event like this, it hardly seems to be the goal of the event, which undoubtedly is to watch Paul McCartney, who, as Engstrom put it, is one of the most successful entertainers of all time.
So if the goal is to watch a concert in the presidents box and Meg O'Leary wasn't invited, why was Meg O' Leary on the flight to Missoula and why did state taxpayers pay for the flight in the first place? KGVO News contacted Tim Crowe again for an explanation, but we never received a call back.
To date, there is no public record of either the Governor or O'Leary repaying the state for the Paul McCartney trip.
According to state flight records obtained by KGVO, O'Leary is a frequent flier with Governor Bullock to more than just concerts. It appears that she flies far more on the state plane than any of Bullock's other Cabinet officials. In a period stretching from March 2013 to August 2016 O'Leary flew 56 times, that is three times more than any other department director.
- Meg O'Leary 56
- Jason Smith 20
- John Rogers 19
- Major General Matthew Quinn 18
- John Tubbs 11
- Pam Bucy 10
- Dan Villa 6
- Tom Livers 6
- Mike Tooley 5
- Sheila Hogan 2
Beyond flying around the state of Montana, O'Leary has been joining Bullock on trips out of state and possibly abroad while not on state business.
On May 1, 2015 O'Leary appeared with Bullock at the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Photos of both were snapped by a team of photographers from the Voice-Tribune that includes Max Sharp, Chris Humphreys, Bill Wine, Tim Valentino and Amber Chaflin on May First and published in a photo gallery titled Kentucky Oaks 141.
Though the two aren't in the same picture, the pictures are consecutive in the photo log and they are standing against an identical green rail, so are highly unlikely to be in the same area by chance.
Interestingly, flight logs show that,O'Leary and Bullock flew to Missoula together on the state plane on April 29 just before the trip to Kentucky. The state plane came to Missoula on the 29th and flew back before 10:47 a.m. for a very early trip. Possibly to catch another flight? Montana State legislator Brad Tschida has asked the Governor's office for a record of official business on that day but says he has not heard a response.
Beyond a trip to the Kentucky Derby, O'Leary likely also accompanied the Governor on another non-state related trip, most likely to Puerto Rico.
The Democratic Governor's Association sent $1,900 dollars to O'Leary in March of 2015. James DeHaven from the Independent Record first detailed these payments in a piece titled "DGA records detail payments to Bullock, staffers, shared vendors; group says all are proper." In that piece, DeHaven points out that the only DGA event that month was in Puerto Rico. An internet web-archiver has saved a flyer for the DGA meeting, which occurred on March 13 and 14 of 2015. March 13 was a Friday, typically a workday for state employees like O'Leary and Bullock.
As there is no readily viewable archive of Bullock's or Meg O'Leary's schedule and no apparent formal standard for what constitutes state business in regards to the use of the state plane, it is practically impossible for the public to know if the plane has been used improperly, however, there are clear signs that it has been misused for both personal pleasure (the Paul McCartney Concert) and campaign fundraising.