- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s attorney general and Republican lawmakers say any rulings that Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl makes this year could be challenged in court because Motl’s term of office has expired.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Motl in 2013 and the Senate confirmed him to a term ending Jan. 1. Late last month, a judge nullified that ending date pending a lawsuit that argues Motl should be allowed to serve a full six-year term.

Sen. Nels Swandal, R-Wilsall, said he believes any actions Motl takes after Jan. 1 will be challenged by those who are affected by the commissioner’s rulings dealing with campaign, ethics or lobbying violations.

“Any action he takes is certainly going to be challenged by anybody, because I don’t believe that the court has that authority to change his confirmation,” Swandal told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Swandal’s view echoes that of Attorney General Tim Fox’s office. Solicitor General Dale Schowengerdt said in court documents that Motl’s authority now is uncertain and any action he takes “raises substantial due process concerns.”

Motl said he is continuing his work. There are six campaign complaints on the commissioner’s docket, his office is in settlement talks over past campaign violations, he is testifying on legislative bills and working on lawsuits against his office, he said.

“I will continue to work with the same priorities and focus I have had or would have had without this issue,” Motl said.

The commissioner said state law requires him to continue to discharge the duties of his office until a successor is appointed, even if his term expires.

The question comes down to whether Motl should have received a full six-year term when he was appointed by Bullock in 2013, or whether Motl was appointed to fill the unexpired six-year term of a former commissioner who was appointed but not confirmed.

The commissioner’s job overseeing campaign and ethics rules is fraught with partisan political wrangling, and three commissioners were appointed but not confirmed between 2010 and when Motl took office in 2013.

Former lawmakers, a former state official and others are seeking a court order saying that Motl’s term should not end until mid-2019. Senate Republicans want to intervene in the case to say its confirmation resolution setting the Jan. 1 ending date should be affirmed.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the resolution to intervene in the lawsuit. It must be approved by the full Republican-controlled Senate.


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