Senate Republicans Seek to Push Motl Out as Commissioner

Montana Republicans opposed to giving Commissioner of Political Practices full six-year term to intervene

By Matt Volz | Associated Press

HELENA — Senate Republicans who oppose giving Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl a full six-year term in office want to intervene in a lawsuit that aims to do just that.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, told his GOP caucus Tuesday that a resolution will be introduced as early as Wednesday defending the Senate’s confirmation process, which set Jan. 1 as the expiration of Motl’s term.

“We’re the party that’s offended,” Thomas told his Republican colleagues in the Montana Capitol after the Senate floor session.

Republicans have repeatedly accused Motl of bias against them in his decisions, an accusation that Motl denies. Motl was appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in 2013 and confirmed in 2015 when eight Republican senators broke ranks to vote with 21 Democrats.

The commissioner of political practices regulates the state’s campaign, ethics and lobbying laws, and is appointed to a six-year term. However, the position has been plagued by partisan wrangling that led to three commissioners being appointed and departing between 2010 and 2013.

When Bullock appointed Motl in 2013, he set the end of the term as Jan. 1, 2017, which would have been the expiration of that first appointment in 2010. The Senate resolution confirming Motl’s appointment also includes the Jan. 1 termination date.

The lawsuit filed earlier this month argues that Motl’s appointment and confirmation creates a new six-year term that should expire in mid-2019. The plaintiffs are Democratic Sen. Christine Kaufmann, departing Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, former Republican Rep. Jesse O’Hara, Al Smith of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association and a group called Montanans for Experienced Judges.

District Judge Kathy Seeley agreed late last month to let Motl stay in office until the case is heard.

A draft of the Senate Republicans’ resolution seeks to intervene in the case in order to “vigorously defend and protect in all court proceedings the legal integrity of (the) Senate’s constitutional confirmation authority.”

If the resolution passes, the Senate would assert that Motl’s term ended on Jan. 1.

Motl said Tuesday that having the Senate step into the lawsuit would be a good thing. “The more participants in the action, the better it is for the court,” he said.

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