Sales goes after Motl

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?






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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Thank you for this post. Sales is not the only one going after Motl. Sen. Swandal (R-Wilsall) is the sponsor of the resolution (SR2) for the senate to intervene in the lawsuit by Democrats and Montana’s judiciary. Swandal pulled this same crap in 2014, when after retiring as district judge, got himself appointed Park County Attorney and deputized his law partners to intervene on behalf of Joel Boniek and Pat Wagman (also named in the dark money scandal). Even more egregious is the fact that Swandal was simultaneously running for Wagman’s old seat. In 2012, as district judge, Swandal ordered COPP (Murry) to return the meth house documents to Christian and Allison LeFer.

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