Let’s say I get busted for fraud. I go to court and although I don’t have to do any jail time, the judge levies a fine, and I’m not happy about it. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get that judge tossed off the bench? And wouldn’t it be even cooler if I could get the taxpayers to pick up the tab in doing so?
That’s a lot like what Montana Senate President Scott Sales is up to.
Back in 2010, he was running for a seat on the Gallatin County Commission. He and other tea party candidates threw in with an anti-environmental organization called Western Tradition Partnership. It did illegal campaign coordination and below cost mailings on behalf of Sales and friends.
(PBS did an excellent documentary on the whole sleazy affair called “Big Sky, Big Money.”)
Sales was fined $500 in 2014 for his involvement in the dark money scandal. He negotiated this settlement with Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl. Now Sales has gotten the Republican majority in the state senate to hire an attorney to get rid of Motl.
It’s a little more complicated because there is some question on when Motl’s term expires. When he was appointed in 2013, he was told his term was over Jan. 1, 2017. But a commissioner’s term is usually six years so some legislators and other officials are suing to keep Motl in office. There are already lawyers from the Legislative Services Division available to defend against the lawsuit. So what I’d like to know is why Sales and the senate decided to hire their own lawyer on the taxpayer’s dime. Could it be payback time?
Motl is an excellent commissioner. He cleared a huge backload of complaints soon after taking office, he’s well-versed in campaign law and he’s been fair, prosecuting Democrats, Republicans and organizations with an even hand. Granted, Republicans have been caught up in substantially more campaign shenanigans, but whose fault is that?
I find it deeply disturbing that an elected official involved in a dark money scandal would be chosen for the highest office in the Montana Senate, but it takes real chutzpah for this same guy to go after the commissioner who pressed the charges against him.
I have two additional questions. The senate vote to hire the attorney broke exclusively along party lines, except for one Democrat. So, what’s up Sen. Mike Phillips (D-Bozeman)?
Also, there was no mention in today’s Lee Newspapers’ article of Sales’ and Motl’s contentious past. How could that not be a part of the story?