Controversial Candidates Vie for Political Practices Job

The Montana Legislature announced the eleven candidates who will be interviewed by a legislative committee to take over as the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) on Wednesday. The list includes several controversial candidates.

Jeffrey Barber, a registered lobbyist for the Nature Conservancy, a national left-wing environmental group with a chapter in Montana,  applied for the position. In his resume he claims to have successfully lobbied for $119 million in public funds during his last four years for the group.

“[Lobbied] Montana’s Congressional delegation on legislation including: Farm Bill, tax policy, Land and Water Conservation Fund, energy policy and federal land management,” Barber’s resume states..

Responding to supplemental questions asked by the legislature, he revealed that he has served as an adviser for the Montana Conservation Voters PAC, an environmental group that is currently caught up in a complaint alleging illegal coordination with Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2012 gubernatorial campaign.

Jonathan Motl, a lawyer involved with many campaign finance activist groups like Common Cause and Stand With Montanans, also applied.

Motl most recently drafted ballot initiative I-166, an anti-Citizens United ballot initiative that pressured legislators to push for a constitutional amendment defining that corporations are not people.

Although Motl claims on his application that his partisan views will not affect his duties as commissioner, a Media Trackers Montana investigation reveals that he has contributed thousands of dollars exclusively to Democratic candidates since 1992.

“I have contributed to a political party, to candidates and to ballot committees,” Motl wrote. “My past activities and contributions will not affect my ability to render impartial decisions as I will follow the law.”

Colleen Urquhart-Fillner, a former staffer for former Gov. Marc Racicot, applied for the position.

Urquhart-Fillner claims in her resume that she is no longer partisan, saying that after her final term as the Finance Chair for the Lewis and Clark Republican Central Committee, she withdrew from partisan politics.

“At this point in time I consider myself to be a moderate Independent and am not actively involved in politics and do not typically support candidates of either party,” she said in response to questions about her political background.

Other politically charged candidates include Joel Krautter, a former intern for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, and Debra Brown, the current Treasurer for the Montana Republican Party.

The past two commissioners, both of whom were appointed by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, have had a history of working closely with candidates and committees that were closely affiliated with the Democratic party.

Current COPP Jim Murry, who announced last month that he would not be seeking reappointment for the position, served as the treasurer for the Democratic Governors Association of Montana — a major force behind the election of current Gov. Steve Bullock — prior to taking the position.

Dave Gallik, who resigned after several of his co-workers claimed he was conducting private business on state time, was Schweitzer’s former attorney and served as treasurer for Council for Sustainable America, a PAC that received a $335,000 contribution from the Democratic Governors Association four months after Schweitzer became chair for the committee.

Now that the application period is over, a selection committee, consisting of President of the Senate Jeff Essmann, Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel, and House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, will meet on May 3 to consider which of the eleven applicants will be recommended to Gov. Steve Bullock, who will then appoint one of the final candidates.

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