Jonathan Motl

William Marcus

Montana’s proposed rules for political campaigns need rewriting. That was the opinion of several public interest groups that testified during two days of public hearings Wednesday and Thursday at the state capitol. The rules proposed by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, define when a public interest group qualifies as a "political committee".

Jonathan Motl is rewriting the rules for politics in Montana. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not.  The state's Commissioner of Political Practices has come out with a top-to-bottom rewrite of the rules that candidates, parties, and political committees must follow, partly because of Senate Bill 289, the so-called “dark money” bill passed by the state legislature this year.

Jonathan Motl, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices speaks during a forum about the "Disclose Act" in Missoula, MT
Josh Burnham

Montana’s new campaign finance law still has at least one loophole that needs to be addressed. That’s according to state Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl.

Dartmouth College may be looking at a substantial fine for violating Montana’s campaign finance laws.

Today State Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl found that the school, along with Stanford University, broke state law last October, when the two mailed fliers to 100,000 people in Montana purporting to rank candidates for state supreme court on a liberal to conservative scale.

In late April, as the Montana Legislature was getting ready to adjourn, the state Senate confirmed Jonathan Motl as Commissioner of Political Practices, a job he’s held since being appointed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock in 2013. Montana has had four different Political Practices Commissioners since 2011, and Motl is the first in that time to win Senate confirmation, against harsh criticism from some Republicans.

The Montana Republican Party claims a non-profit group from Billings broke election laws during the 2014 campaign season.

The complaint filed with the Commissioner of Political Practices charges that the Montana League of Rural Voters used “dark money” to influence the 2014 election. 

Michael Wright - Community News Service

Welcome to the lobby, and the sometimes-confusing world of lobbying….

The Montana Senate had been expected to wrap up its business and head home this afternoon. Instead, Senators debated for more than an hour on one of the governor’s most controversial nominees.

In the end, Jonathan Motl became the first Commissioner of political practices to be confirmed by the Montana Senate in nearly a decade. Appointed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, Motl has drawn fire from many Republicans who claim he targets conservatives for campaign violations, like Miles City Republican Eric Moore.

 The State Administration Committee heard much praise, but also much criticism, of Jonathan Motl, whom Governor Steve Bullock appointed as Commissioner of Political Practices in 2013.

The criticism came mainly from Republicans who gotten into trouble with Motl, including Republican Representative Art Wittich.

“You should not confirm Jon Motl," Wittich told the committee. "He’ll bring further shame to this office and to justice itself. Instead make the governor appoint an objective commissioner, someone with a clear history of unbiased and appropriate conduct."

Lawmakers Debate Cuts To Office Of Political Practices

Mar 30, 2015

Today at the Montana Legislature, state Senators discussed taking away a full-time attorney for the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices.

As written, the commissioner, Jonathan Motl, says the state budget would force him to contract out for an attorney, potentially costing more money for less experience.

Motl says his office may have more complaints due to the increased use of corporate money under the Citizens United ruling.

Jonathan Motl is the Commissioner of Political Practices in Montana. It turns out, that's a difficult and controversial job. Serious state and national political interests care deeply about campaign contribution rules, anonymous or "dark money",  the definition of independent committees, and host of other issues. To top it off, Motl is up for confirmation during this session of the Montana Legislature. He has been strongly praised by some, sharply criticized by others. Listen in to hear what he has to say.

Lawmakers Consider Cuts To Commissioner Of Political Practices Budget

Mar 5, 2015

Today at the Montana Legislature, Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl argued that state lawmakers need to fully fund his department or he won’t be able to prosecute politicians abusing the system.

Lawmakers are considering a cut of about $100,000 from the commissioner's proposed budget, including eliminating the prosecuting attorney.

“It takes away the only attorney in the state of Montana who is dedicated to enforcement of Montana’s Campaign Practice Act.”

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

This week on "Capitol Talk": The Flathead water rights compact passes out of committee. A bill intended to "shine sunlight on dark money" is making its way through the process. Lawmakers heard testimony on one part of the GOP healthcare plan. And next Friday is the bill transmittal deadline and halfway point of the session

Lawmakers Consider Changes To State Election Laws

Jan 21, 2015
William Marcus

Montana lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s election laws.

One bill (House Bill 77) would change who would prosecute political robo-calls which are against the law in Montana. The other bill would allow a special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, rather than an appointment by the Governor.

Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio has more from the Capitol.

Legislative News Roundup - Week 2

Jan 20, 2015
William Marcus

In the second week of the 64th Montana Legislature, two initiatives from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget were opened up in joint appropriations subcommittees.

Dartmouth College and Stanford University today apologized for a controversial Montana campaign mailer. They’ll send follow-up letters to the 100,000 people who got that mailer, telling them to ignore it. Those letters are supposed to arrive before election day.
 
"I think it’s a good first step," says Linda McCulloch, Montana's Secretary of State. "I think it’s a good pre-election step."

Update 10/28/14
Read the apology letter from Stanford and Dartmouth here

Lawyers representing Stanford University spoke with Montana’s commissioner of political practices today about a controversial campaign mailer.

That flyer, sent to about 100,000 Montanans last week, used the state seal without permission, and purports to show the political leanings of those running for two seats on the state supreme court. Supreme court races in Montana are by law non-partisan.

Have you received an official-looking mailer that rates the political leanings of Montana's four nonpartisan Supreme Court candidates?

If so, take a close look at it; the flier features an image of Montana's state seal and compares the candidates' political ideologies to those of President Obama and former Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Problem is, it's a fake. The state of Montana has nothing to do with these mailers.

Courtesy Photo

Montana’s commissioner of political practices says Missoula County Sheriff candidate T.J. McDermott violated campaign finance laws.

McDermott has a very different interpretation of what that means than does his political opponent, Josh Clark.

Clark filed complaints about McDermott’s campaign practices in August.

Three legislative candidates and two candidates for county commissions will be removed from the November fourth  ballot after they failed to file campaign finance reports.

Edward O'Brien has more with Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, who explains how - and why - the investigation started:

Clean Campaigns, A "Clean Platform" And Clean Coal

Jul 11, 2014

This week in Montana politics:

The A.P. reported that District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock rejected Sen. Art Wittich's attempt to dismiss campaign finance complaints filed against him. The ruling clears the way for the case against Wittich to proceed.

Over the weekend, Montana Republicans held their platform convention in Billings.  Chuck Johnson of Lee Newspapers reports that Republicans, "Irked at what they believe is Democrats interfering in their primary elections. . . called for closing their primaries and allowing only registered Republicans to vote in them."  Delegates also supported a resolution to turn over federal public lands to the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to let individuals give to as many political candidates and campaigns as they want.

The 5-4 vote Wednesday, led by the court’s conservative majority, frees up wealthy contributors to give more campaign donations ahead of the 2014 election.

It will have an immediate impact on Montana races for federal office, such as the US Senate and House of Representatives.

But, the state Commissioner of Political Practices says statewide elections will not be affected that much.

Montana BASE website

 A group of moderate Republicans who denounce anonymous campaign spending in elections say their Political Action Committee, or PAC, plays by the rules.

PACs have been the source of so-called dark money over the last few elections cycles, and a lot of that spending in Montana has been aimed at helping more conservative Republicans win primary campaigns.

The moderates say this time they’re fighting back--in a transparent way.

Montana Legislature

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices this week issued a ruling accusing a sitting Republican state lawmaker of illegally coordinating with a “dark money” group during his 2010 campaign, an accusation the lawmaker denies.

American Tradition Partnership, one of the primary “dark money” groups operating in Montana the past few elections, has been fined more than $260,000 for illegal campaign activity. This even as the group may be quietly dissolving.

“Here, we have what appears to be a deliberate attempt to evade Montana’s campaign and reporting requirements,” District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock wrote in his Monday ruling.

Montana’s commissioner of political practices is ruling the conservative dark money group American Tradition Partnership illegally coordinated election activities with a former state legislator.

Commissioner Jonathan Motl said Wednesday ATP distributed campaign mailers in coordination with former Billings Republican Representative Dan Kennedy. It’s the second blow to ATP this week, after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit from ATP associates.