Committee to interview applicants for Commissioner of Political Practices job Wednesday
(Daily Montanan) Lawmakers on the Nomination Committee met Wednesday to interview five people who applied to be Montana’s next Commissioner of Political Practices and decide whether any of them should be forwarded to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte for appointment and Senate confirmation.
The five applicants interviewed Wednesday were Chris J. Gallus, Brad Johnson, Layne Kertamus, Megan Martin and Debbie White-Goetze. Legislative Services sent the Daily Montanan their resumes and supplemental materials, if the applicants provided those to the committee, in order to detail their qualifications ahead of the meeting.
The Commissioner of Political Practices is nonpartisan and oversees and enforces Montana campaign finance laws, investigates campaign finance and lobbying complaints, and oversees ethical standards for legislators, public officers and state employees.
Jeff Mangan is the outgoing commissioner whose term ends at the end of the month. He currently makes $80,000 a year in the position. He was appointed in May 2017 by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Commissioners of political practices serve a single six-year term after they are confirmed by the Senate and cannot be reappointed by governors.
Among other matters, the new commissioner will be the one who likely decides whether to pursue a complaint filed by the Montana Democratic Party alleging Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras has been living rent-free in a home near the Capitol owned by the Montana Family Foundation.
In order to qualify for appointment by the governor, candidates for the position cannot, over the past two years, have fundraised for a candidate for public office, been an officer in a political party or on a political committee, or managed a candidate’s campaign for public office.
After the interviews are complete, the committee will have to submit at least two of the applicants to the governor for consideration, but they may submit up to all five candidates. Gov. Gianforte will then appoint one of the applicants to the commissioner position, who will then have to be confirmed by the Republican-majority Senate.
But if a majority of the committee fails to submit at least two names, Gianforte would be able to appoint “anyone who meets the qualifications for the office,” according to the Montana Legislature.
The Governor’s Office did not respond to an email Friday asking whether it had solicited any of the candidates who had applied.
Only five candidates applied for the position, according to Legislative Services. They are as follows:
Chris Gallus is a licensed attorney based in Helena who has practiced law in Montana since 1996. According to his resume, he has spent the past 22 years at his own private practice representing clients regarding government relations, election and business organization, campaign finance, elections, ballot issues, lobbying laws and regulations — mostly on behalf of private business and trade associations. He has also been a lobbyist during that time working on behalf of law offices and the Montana Tavern Association.
During the late ‘90s, he was legal counsel and the director of government relations for the Montana Chamber of Commerce. He worked in lobbying and economic development with the Montana Energy Research and Development Institute in the early ‘90s. From 1989-1992, he was the director of the Butte-Silver Bow Business Development Center.
“As an attorney practicing law in Montana for 26 years and my involvement with Montana’s political and legislative process since 1987, I understand how vital the Political Practices Office is to our system of government and Montana citizens,” Gallus wrote to the committee for consideration. “It would be a pleasure to serve in this capacity.”
In July 2021, Gallus had to apply to the Montana Supreme Court for active reinstatement to the State Bar of Montana due to noncompliance with the Rules for Continuing Legal Education for the previous reporting year. But he completed the CLE requirement and was made active two weeks later. He did not receive any public discipline, according to disciplinary records.
He said in a letter to the committee that he has years of experience and skill in litigation, government relations, lobbying, and state and federal campaign finance law.
“While I have litigated certain matters, I typically advise trial attorneys with respect to strategy and participate more regularly in matters I characterize as statutory interpretation, briefing and legal research and appellate or hearings based legal actions, such as arguing points of law before agencies and judges,” he wrote to the committee.
Gallus also told them he was a registered lobbyist for a client during the 2021 session but “did not have any bills that required lobbying or committee appearances” and that he volunteered for a veteran’s organization that supported one bill during the session.
Gallus received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Carroll College in 1987 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law in 1996.
Bradley (Brad) Johnson
Brad Johnson is currently the vice president of the Public Service Commission whose term ends Jan. 2. He has been a PSC commissioner since 2015 and previously was president of the commission. He was also the Montana Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009 before he lost reelection in 2008.
Johnson has some experience with the COPP. He was fined $3,000 by Mangan in 2017 after Mangan, the COPP at the time, found he drafted a letter to the editor about PSC District 3 candidate Caron Cooper on his PSC computer, had PSC legal counsel review it, then sent it to several newspapers using his state email address.
Commissioner Mangan found the letter constituted “a solicitation of opposition to Ms. Cooper” which, in the manner it was drafted, reviewed and sent, violated Montana’s Code of Ethics for use of “time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, or funds.”
“To be clear, had Mr. Johnson conducted the same activity using his personal resources, the Commissioner would have dismissed the complaint as frivolous on its face,” Mangan wrote. “… Public employment and service comes imbued with the public trust. The public trust requires proper use of state resources by all public servants for the good of all Montanans.”
A May 2021 Legislative Audit Division report on the PSC’s financial compliance during FY2019 and FY2020, when Johnson was president of the PSC, said auditors could not obtain “reliable management representations regarding financial activities,” and said auditors had concerns about department personnel’s integrity and competence and their ability to provide “reliable representation.”
“Our integrity and competence concerns stemmed from an attempt to provide us with falsified documentation, potential waste of state resources, and disregard of state and internal policies, including management override of controls,” auditors wrote in the report, which did not directly name the commissioners or others they had concerns about.
At least one item auditors raised as problematic involved Johnson directly, the purchase of a “comfort class” airline ticket to Washington, D.C.
The report also found indications of “an unhealthy organizational culture and ineffective leadership,” that commissioners were disregarding state travel and other policies and potentially wasting state resources.
Roger Koopman, another now-former PSC commissioner, claimed in a column published in February 2020 in the Great Falls Tribune that Johnson and another commissioner had wrongfully obtained his emails, which he alleged constituted “spying.”
Johnson lost in 2012 in the Secretary of State’s race, then won election to the PSC in 2014. He ran in the 2016 governor’s race but dropped out early on. Johnson won reelection to the PSC in 2018, then again ran for Secretary of State in 2020 but came in third place in the Republican primary.
In a letter to the committee, Johnson wrote that working at the PSC has made him “extremely proficient of leading a quasi-judicial regulatory agency” and said his experiences as secretary of state “provide me with a truly unique perspective in regard to the challenges and opportunities associated with the office of COPP.”
In Johnson’s letter to the Nominating Committee, he wrote: “I genuinely believe that the breadth and depth of me [sic] relevant experience makes me uniquely qualified to discharge the duties of the Commissioner of Political Practices.”
Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Illinois in 1974 and a master’s degree in agriculture from the same university in 1976.
Layne Kertamus is an executive who runs his own consulting business based in Salt Lake City who also teaches at Utah Valley University. He worked as the vice president of insurance operations at the Montana State Fund from 2003 to 2008.
He has also previously worked as an underwriting vice president at the Workers Compensation Fund in Utah and at another business consulting company.
“I am interested in the important work of safeguarding ethical and legal campaign practices in Montana in a consistently nonpartisan approach,” he wrote in a letter to the Nominating Committee. “I have served in appointed nonpartisan government positions and understand the importance of the public interest in our democracy. … I effectively lead people and processes to achieve organizational expectations consistent with law and values.”
Kertamus said on his resumé that he has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Claremont McKenna College and a master’s degree in intercultural communication from California State University.
Megan Martin is based in Helena and has experience as an auditor and analyst with the Montana Board of Crime Control and Montana Department of Transportation, with previous experience as a Montana Highway Patrol dispatcher and a U.S. Army military police officer.
Martin has been a compliance auditor for the Criminal Justice Information Network, an internal auditor with the Department of Transportation, and since August, according to her resume, has been working as a data integrity analyst for the Montana Board of Crime Control.
She said she has an undergraduate degree in criminal justice administration but did not provide more information on her resumé.
Debbie White-Goetze is based in Cascade and currently runs her own consulting business. She was the Great Falls International Airport commissioner from 2011 to 2013, and prior to that, held several jobs tied to management and marketing in aviation, railroads and resorts in Alaska, according to her resumé.
She managed an airport parking and shuttle service, conducted sales and marketing for the State of Alaska, worked for AAA in Alaska, and worked with the military on aircraft operations in Montana, Alaska and Hawaii.
She has an associate degree from Pioneer Christian College in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from the University of Alaska – Anchorage.