Political corruption. It weakens democracy and demands our attention. Defined by Wikipedia as “the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain,” political corruption “erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold.”
Specifically, the Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik resigned after his entire staff publicly reported that he had been misusing state resources for private gain. He was allegedly falsifying his time sheets and simultaneously operating his private law practice out of the COPP office.
A full investigation must occur on the various ethical, and potentially criminal, violations by Gallik. The evidence on Gallik’s state-owned computer, now in possession of the governor’s office, should be preserved. The laws are unclear on who should investigate, but Mr. Gallik denies the charges, and he must be afforded due process to defend himself.
Gov. Schweitzer appointed Mr. Gallik to the position within hours of being recommended by Democrat legislative leaders. Rather than appointing a non-partisan, unbiased referee, Montanans were stuck with a partisan who is extremely active funding and supporting Democrat candidates and causes.
Furthermore, he is the governor’s private lawyer. Under the current system, Mr. Gallik was charged with investigating, prosecuting, judging and penalizing both Republicans with whom he and the governor have clashed in the past as well as Democrats he has publicly and financially supported, such as Gov. Schweitzer and Attorney Steve General Bullock who have claims pending against them..
We need to restructure the entire ethics and political practices system to avoid the temptation to partisan abuse in the future, from either party. We need to separate the tasks of investigator and prosecutor from the tasks of judge and jury. The simplest solution would involve a career civil servant in the full-time role of investigator and prosecutor and a five-member commission, appointed to staggered terms by legislative leadership as well as the governor, acting as a judicial panel. No single appointee should have a position where he can game the system to partisan advantage.
We may not be able to get politics entirely out of the Political Practices Office, but we can have a better system for appointments and for decision-making. If we really care about political corruption, we need to match our words with our actions.
(Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, is the majority leader of the Montana State Senate.)