The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices office has always been something of a hero to us.
The tiny office with a small staff has been responsible for monitoring campaigns throughout the state to determine if they are following Montana’s fair, but rather strict, rules and regulations.
The governor appoints the commissioner, so it is almost certain that he or she will be accused of political bias in the decision-making process.
So, it is likely that will be the case this week. Commissioner Jonathan Motl ruled that he found evidence that former state Rep. Dan Kennedy illegally coordinated activities with conservative political group Western Tradition Partnership in the 2012 GOP primary.
Even though this case was an internal Republican spat, WTP is a favorite of the conservative wing of Montana’s GOP, and that wing is especially at odds with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who appointed Motl.
All politics aside, Motl’s ruling makes sense. There have been indications that WTP, the subject of a PBS Frontline series documentary, has been at least skirting regulations that require dark money groups to separate themselves from political campaigns.
Dark money groups have been a stain on Montana’s image as a politically clean state. They have every right, courts have ruled, to advertise in behalf of candidates, but coordinating with the candidates themselves is prohibited.
Motl said that he will now move on to investigate other allegations of WTP coordinating with candidates. If this continues, Motl warned, fines could be levied and office holders could be removed from office.
It would be sad if that happened, but not as sad as it would be if Montana’s rich history of clean politics were wiped out by a secretive group.