- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The commissioner of political practices ruled Thursday that one of his predecessors violated Montana campaign-practices laws when he signed a tax form as the treasurer of a political group while still in office.

But Commissioner Jonathan Motl said there is no way to seek penalties against former commissioner David Gallik. He can’t be impeached because he already has left office, and the one-year statute of limitations for enforcement already has passed, Motl said.

When Gallik was commissioner from May 2011 to January 2012, he signed an IRS 990 tax reform as the treasurer for the Council for a Sustainable America. The group was registered with the IRS to influence the selection or defeat of candidates for public office, and it had received $335,000 from the Democratic Governors Association.

Montana law prevents the commissioner from participating in any political activity or campaign while in office, Motl said.

Gallik denied being involved in political activity. The group had ceased operations in 2010- before he became commissioner - and he simply signed the final tax return, he said.

“This was just the final IRS document that the accountant says you’ve got to put in,” Gallik said. “If I didn’t file the forms, the IRS would have come after me.”

Motl said he accepted Gallik’s explanation, but it does not relieve him of taking an improper action.

“What Mr. Gallik, or any commissioner, did before appointment is left at the door upon appointment, except as may be applied to a conflict recusal,” Motl said in his decision. “However, what a commissioner does after appointment is exceedingly regulated, with a consistent focus on appearance of conflict to the public.”

Gallik, a former Democratic legislator, resigned in 2012 over a dispute with his staff over their allegations that he was doing private work on state time. He disputed that he did anything wrong, and he said he made it clear from the beginning of his appointment that he would continue in his law practice.

Gallik said Thursday that many of the same staffers are still working under Motl, which raises its own appearance of a conflict in Motl handling the case. He said he is not accusing Motl or his staff of bias in the decision against him, but it raises the same questions that Motl raised against him.

“Given the backdrop to this whole thing, there is certainly an appearance of impropriety,” Gallik said of the decision.

Motl said in response that he takes responsibility for the decision and his tenure with the staff has been positive.

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