HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock interviewed five candidates on Monday for the post of commissioner of political practices — a position that has suffered in recent years from partisan wrangling and high turnover.
Bullock talked with candidates sent to him by Montana legislative leaders. He is not obligated to pick from the list, although interviews were given only to the Legislature’s candidates and no others were scheduled.
Bullock asked each of the candidates how they would approach the job and what they would do about so-called “dark money” contributions in politics that avoid the sort of disclosure policed by the office.
The new commissioner will complete the final three years of a six-year term left vacant as three Democratic appointees did not complete confirmation through the Republican-controlled Senate.
The most recent, Jim Murry, stepped down last month after saying he didn’t think the GOP-controlled Senate would confirm him.
Bullock told the candidates he will be making a choice by May 24, the deadline for his appointment after the Legislature adjourned without confirming anyone for the post.
The governor interviewed Helena lawyer Jonathan Motl, former journalist and lawyer Ellen Bush, former political practices investigator Robert Hoffman, legislative session staffer Dan Ritter, and Colleen Urquhart-Fillner, who used to work for former Gov. Marc Racicot.
The office that enforces campaign and ethics laws has seen four commissioners heading the office since 2010. The post pays about $58,000 a year.
A panel of two Republican and two Democratic legislative leaders struggled to pare down the list of recommendations.
Republicans object to Motl, pointing out that he has a background of contributing to candidates and working on ballot initiatives, including the voter-approved law that established the state’s campaign contribution limits.
Motl said his background and knowledge of the office prepared him well for the post. He told the governor he would use that experience to reduce the reliance on outside legal help.
He told the governor that the office should use its authority, including subpoena power, to go after so-called “dark money” groups that purposefully try to avoid disclosure of spending in elections.
Bullock’s choice would face Senate confirmation in 2015. Another candidate who has worked for the lawmakers, Ritter, told the governor that stability is needed in the post.
“I think getting someone in there that will fulfill the term and get confirmed will facilitate the process,” he said during his interview. which was open to the public.
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