Only in Montana could the incumbent ruling party be judge, jury and executioner of any candidate from the other side who dares to run against them.
The Montana Commission of Political Practices – COPP (or as I call them, the Corrupt Office of Partisan Politics) must be blown up and redesigned. The first step is to approve House Bill HJ1, which calls for “an interim study of the structure and duties of the office of the Commission Of Political Practices.” Failing a reorganization, the legislature must refuse to re-confirm political hack Jim Murry as commissioner.
The COPP is charged with administering Montana’s laws and regulations pertaining to ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance. That sounds like a noble and necessary function. The problem is, the commissioner is appointed by, and serves at the behest of, the incumbent governor. Current commissioner Jim Murry was appointed by Governor Brian Schweitzer. Murry, the former head of the Montana AFL/CIO, Schweitzer campaign finance chairman, and a long-time leading Democrat apparatchik, was touted by Schweitzer as having “years of labor management and bipartisan experience”.
AFL/CIO head and Schweitzer money man – that’s about as bipartisan as you can get. What do you think are the chances any Republican accused of any transgression will get a fair shake before the COPP?
The sponsor of HJ1, JoAnne Blyton (R-HD59), expressed concern that the small COPP staff is overworked, citing the “lengthy backlogs of complaints that don’t get resolved.”
One of those many backlogged complaints was the trumped-up case against Ken Miller, 2012 Republican candidate for governor – a case study of the grotesque and transparently political antics of the COPP.
Miller is a no-nonsense guy who ran a no-frills campaign. Unlike most candidates for the governor’s chair, Miller did not have deep-pocket political connections, or much in the way of financial support from his party. He invested his family’s savings and put 100,000 miles on the family sedan, criss-crossing the state, shaking hands, and picking up small contributions from working-class Montanans who shared his conservative values. His grass-roots message resonated and if he won the nomination, he would have been a serious threat to the Democrats’ gubernatorial hopes.
Early in Miller’s campaign, an ambitious political wannabe, Kelly Bishop, sought to be his running mate. Unqualified for that position, she accepted a commissioned fund-raising job, but that, too, was beyond her ability, and she was released. Her parting shot at Miller was a call to the COPP office to see if there was any way she could squeeze some money from the campaign on her way out. Commissioner Murry smelled blood and invited Bishop to “file a complaint”, even though she had no specific allegations.
Murry then launched his attack on Miller, alleging violations that were all either disproved or corrected. All were inconsequential and would serve no purpose to Miller, even if true.
Four days before the primary election the COPP released its “findings” of unreported contributions to the press only hours after e-mailing them to Miller, who was on the road campaigning. Before Miller even knew what happened, news outlets all over the state had reported that he was found guilty of a number of violations.
The Miller camp compared their records with the COPP’s and were shocked to find that the “missing” records were clearly displayed on the COPP’s own website. The charges were blatantly false.
Miller held a press conference at the state Capitol, refuting every charge,and pointing to the COPP’s own website data as proof that the allegedly missing contributions were clearly reported. The media was largely disinterested, and only one correspondent mentioned the event. Murry’s tactic had succeeded – the damage was done.
The next day Murry said that if the Miller campaign could prove their defense, he would retract the charges. Miller threatened legal action, but nothing could restore the voters’ confidence only one day before the primary. It was the old “October surprise” trick.
In the aftermath, Murry retracted all of his first findings, and issued a new set of allegations, equally untrue and/or insignificant. He did not question or sanction any other candidates, although their reports contained errors and violations, according to the COPP’s website. Murry made a half-hearted offer of settlement, but the amount of the fine was so unaffordable, and the stench of the corruption so pungent, that Miller found no alternative to filing suit against the COPP and Murry.
41 states currently have political practices commissions which are operated in non-partisan fashion. Let’s hope 2013 is the year that Montana joins them.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
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4 thoughts on “Corruption In Big Sky Country – the COPP”
Great post, Tom!
There are, indeed, many problems with the COPP (love your name for the acronym!) starting with the fact that it’s underfunded, under-staffed, and has very limited authority – and virtually no oversight. Other than those issues, it’s hard to imagine why there could be problems.
I would like to see JoAnn’s bill modified to implement a real commission, not just to study the problem, but to bring to the 2015 legislature proposals to overhaul the system from top to bottom – starting with a board of commissioners (instead of just one person) and continuing through enacting some laws with real teeth in them and a method of enforcement. If you heard the hearing on HB 129 yesterday, it’s pretty clear that “little fixes” aren’t going to work at all.
I’m prey confident that Murray won’t be confirmed – that’s the good news. The bad news is that Bullock will just name another political hack to fill the remainder of the term. And that process would continue until we have a governor and Senate majority of the same party or the system gets fixed. I vote for fixing the system.
Thanks for the update Tom. Ken was a great candidate and as in all cases of good candidates from the right, the compliant press takes them out. This is indeed an egregious situation. Education Lady
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