Hearing Friday: Bill eliminates commissioner of political practices

Jonathan Motl

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – A bill in the Montana House would get rid of the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices and split the duties between two elected officials – the attorney general and secretary of state – rather than one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

House Bill 340’s sponsor, Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said the office wields too much power for one person.

“If you’re answerable to the public in everything you do and we split the power amongst two players, Montana is served in the watchdog capacity,” Skees said.

The position, currently held by Jonathan Motl, monitors, enforces and investigates ethical political practices. Under HB 340, the secretary of state would handle the monitoring aspect. If the Secretary of State flags something, the attorney general would investigate from there.

The Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices was established in 1975.

On Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court ruled Motl’s term ended Jan. 1, but that Motl can continue to serve until the Senate confirms a replacement.

To pick a replacement, the House and Senate majority and minority leaders come together to pick 2-5 names of nominees, with each nominee needing a majority vote. That list is then brought to the governor’s desk, and he picks from that list.

If the committee can’t provide a majority vote on any nominees, the governor can decide the replacement as long as they meet certain qualifications.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 340 Friday morning.

Cole Grant 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.