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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bill To Eliminate Montana Office Of Political Practices Advances

Rep. Derek Skees.
Freddy Monares - UM Legislative News Service
Rep. Derek Skees is the sponsor of House Bill 340, which would elimnate Montana's Office of Political Practices.

In a late vote Monday evening, a Republican-backed bill to eliminate the state’s office of political practices took another step forward, passing in the Montana House of Representatives.

The bill to dismantle the state's Office of Political Practices passed largely on party lines as Republicans muscled House Bill 340 through its first key vote on the House floor.

A handful of Republicans voted with Democrats in opposing the bill to split up the office in charge of policing campaign ethics and lobbying laws. The bill, if passed, would give those responsibilities to the secretary of state and the attorney general.

The bill's sponsor, Kalispell Representative Derek Skees, says the current office of political practices is corrupted by a partisan system:

"Today, we have a political system that is hyper-partisan. Everything is political anymore. Science is political. Education is political. This chamber is political. So with a hyper-partisanship, we have a position in the government whose job is to monitor the elective process. To make sure that what you say you receive and spent, is exactly what you received and spent. That job is being watchdogged by an individual who has totalitarian powers."

Representative Tom Woods, a Democrat from Bozeman, challenged Skee's claim that his proposal would make the job of enforcing state election law less partisan:

"The reason this bill is being brought, the problem we are addressing, is the perception, or the belief that the office of Commissioner of Political Practices, COPP, is partisan, or could be partisan, okay. What is the solution being offered? To take the job and give it to offices that are inherently partisan. To quote my students, that doesn't make any sense."

State officials are currently seeking applications for the job of commissioner of political practices to replace Jonathan Motl, whose term expired in January. A bipartisan group of legislative leaders will select a couple of those applicants, from which the governor will pick one. The governor's appointee to lead the COPP must then be confirmed by the state Senate.

House Bill 340 must pass a final vote Tuesday in order to move into the Senate.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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