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HELENA - Secretary of State Linda McCulloch would have violated state law if she had issued $58,000 in bonus checks authorized by former Secretary of State Brad Johnson to his former top nine appointees, the state Department of Administration concluded this morning.

McCulloch, a Democrat who took office Jan. 5, last week learned that Johnson, a Republican whom she defeated in November, had on Nov. 25 authorized nearly $58,000 in bonuses to his appointed staff. The checks were to be issued Jan. 14, after McCulloch took office.

She immediately questioned the legality of the payments and halted the issuance of the checks until she obtained a legal opinion from the Department of Administration, which, among other duties, writes the checks for state government.

"Based on the available information, the awards, if paid, would violate the Legislature's intent as expressed (in state law)," concluded Mike Manion, chief lawyer for the Department of Administration. "The awards do not appear to be authorized by another law, including the (state) Employee Incentive Program."

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Johnson gave "performance awards" equal to 10 percent of the annual salaries of the appointees. The individual bonuses he authorized ranged from $8,755 to $3,502.

Last week, Johnson said his staff determined the bonuses were appropriate and legal and that his team "did a remarkable job serving the people of Montana."

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