MT Political Practices: Perception

In case you missed the news yesterday, Montana Governor Steve Bullock picked a lawyer from Helena, Jonathan Motl, to be the state’s next political practices commissioner.

Lee Newspapers reported:

Motl has donated $6,800 to Montana political campaigns since 1992, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Discounting contributions to ballot issue campaigns and nonpartisan judicial races, Motl has given slightly more than $5,000 in partisan statewide and legislative races, all to Democrats. That includes $790 to Bullock in his races for attorney general and governor.

So the Governor of Montana (a Democrat) appointed someone to that office who donated money to his campaign and to other Democrats. This person will (hopefully) abide by the “Mission Statement” for the Office of Political Practices:

To monitor and to enforce, in a fair and impartial manner, campaign practices and campaign finance disclosure, lobbying disclosure, business interest disclosure of statewide and state district candidates, elected state officials, and state department directors, ethical standards of conduct for legislators, public officers, and state employees, and to investigate legitimate complaints that arise concerning any of the foregoing.

Wonderful. It’s OK to shake your head. I am.

This is not a joke, although it is embarrassing for Montanans. But what is more embarrassing is that the Montana Legislature failed to make changes to the office. If Republicans are complaining about Bullock’s pick, they are partially to blame.

I am sure that Jonathan Motl is a fine person. I am sure that previous commissioners (who did not get confirmed) Jim Murray, Dave Gallik, and Jennifer Hensley were all fine people, too. The job is a thankless one.

But it’s all about perception. Democrats will feel they have a friend in that office and Republicans will feel they don’t. Any rulings favoring Democrats will be looked upon with skepticism; the same thing will happen if the ruling is against a Republican.

I wrote about perception being everything with that office back in 2010. It still matters today. Bullock failed, the Montana Legislature (controlled by Republicans) failed, and Montanans lost.

Follow me on Twitter @TheWesternWord

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