HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock announced Monday that a Helena lawyer who has worked on campaign finance issues will be the state’s next commissioner of political practices.
Jonathan Motl takes over a position that has suffered in recent years from partisan wrangling and high turnover. He 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.
Republican leaders made it clear Monday that they believe Motl is not an impartial pick to lead the office charged with enforcing campaign complaints.
Motl, an attorney, said during the interview processes that he expects to be able to handle many cases himself in court. The office in the past has relied on hiring outside lawyers for much of that work.
Motl has worked with a good-government group called Common Cause in the past and helped write the ballot initiative that became the state’s campaign contribution limit law. He has also worked on other citizen’s initiatives and helped conduct or defend campaign investigations.
Bullock said he expects Motl will be able to improve the length of time it takes for the office to deal with complaints.
“One of the frustrations that people have with this office is that complaints are filed without any assessment of their validity and then they just sit for a couple of years,” Bullock said.
The governor said Motl’s experience on issues related to the office made him stand out compared to several other good candidates sent him by legislative leaders. The governor said he expects Motl, who faces Senate confirmation in early 2015, will prove to lawmakers that he is doing a fair job.
Senate President Jeff Essmann said Republicans believe Mot’s past campaign contributions to Bullock and other activity impair his ability to be impartial. He said that is certain to be an issue for Motl when he comes up for confirmation. Republican lawmakers raised the issue during interviews with Motl, but there was a partisan stalemate on whether to strike him from the list of nominees.
“I’ve been hopping that the office could be filled with someone who would be perceived as less partisan and more even-handed,” Essmann said.
He said Republicans are certain to feel like complaints against them are stacked and don’t believe they will get an impartial jury under Motl.
Motl said he is committed to enforcing campaign laws and the office’s nonpartisan nature.
“The office itself is not partisan. It is an independent, nonpartisan office. A commissioner doesn’t work for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. The commissioner works for the people of Montana and serves the law. That is how I will approach the job,” Motl said. “If I am confirmed by the senate one year and nine months from now, that is fine. If not, that is fine.”
The attorney said he is leaving active practice in Helena and will start the new job by June 10. The new post pays about $62,000 a year.
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