Panel Considers Political Practices Bill

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — An interim legislative panel considered a bill Thursday that would require the governor to choose a commissioner of political practices from a list of nominees.

Members of the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee discussed a draft of the legislation that would create a panel to select nominees.

Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, who played a lead role in crafting the legislation, said he wants to get a perception of fairness into the selection process so the commissioner of political practices can be seen as a nonpartisan referee.

“Everyone knows this job is critical,” Jent said of the role, which includes monitoring and enforcing campaign practices and campaign finance disclosure, among other duties.

Currently, the governor does not have to pick from candidates recommended by legislative leaders, but the six-year appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.

If the person is not confirmed, the commissioner leaves office at the end of the legislative session, and the governor selects a new appointee until the Legislature meets again.

The Senate hasn’t confirmed an appointee since 2010, leading to a revolving door of short-term commissioners and accusations the appointments are driven by partisan politics.

The bill proposes a five-member nomination committee made up of the speaker of the House, president of the Senate, minority leaders of both legislative chambers and a fifth member selected by the other four. They would give the governor a list of between two and five nominees for the position.

Members of the interim committee discussed whether a fifth member on the panel would be needed. They also talked about whether to include a provision saying that if the panel isn’t able to agree on nominations, the governor could appoint someone to the position at will.

The interim committee plans to review a revised bill in August and hopes to have it ready for the 2015 legislative session.