HB 406: Bar political practices chief from office after term

“I’m just trying to keep the integrity of this office and take politics out of it. That’s the purpose of my bill,” said Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montana Republicans furthered their efforts to dismantle the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices by introducing a bill Friday that would prohibit past, present and future commissioners from doing any work for the office.

Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, is the sponsor of House Bill 406, which would also prevent serving commissioners from calling past commissioners for clarification on issues.

“I’m just trying to keep the integrity of this office and take politics out of it. That’s the purpose of my bill,” Hertz said.

Another bill, House Bill 340, which passed the House 54-45 this week, would eliminate the office completely.

Jonathan Motl, current Commissioner of Political Practices, opposed the HB 406 Friday and said the bill is impractical.

“It is entirely possible, particularly depending on who is the commissioner, that I will find it necessary to appear as a witness on behalf of the office based on work that I have done as commissioner during this time,” Motl said.

Mot said the office was created in order to keep balance in campaigns and make sure candidates were abiding by campaigning guidelines.

“That is what this bill would affect. It would affect the ability of the commissioner’s office to find a way to react to and protect candidates,” Motl said.

Motl said when he took the position of the commissioner, he had to call his predecessors five to 15 times to clarify some procedures for the office.

Hertz said this bill would not deny the office from calling on a past commissioner to testify in a past case. He said he wouldn’t mind if the committee wanted to put provisions allowing that, though.

“But, quite frankly, I don’t think that is necessary,” Hertz said. “There’s a number of staff in this office that have worked there for a number of years that we’ve all worked with them, they’re great staff, and I think they can inform the current commissioner as to procedure and process in the office.”

This was the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing of the bill.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.