Political Practices Commissioner on Wittich Trial – Maintains His Office Is Fair To All
Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said on Friday that the recently completed Art Wittich trial was the first time in 75 years that a candidate had been adjudicated as a campaign practice violator.
“Mr. Wittich requested the jury trial,” Motl said. “Then, Mr. Wittich filed 29 defense motions designed to prevent trial. The fact that we went to trial, the fact that we had to adjudicate it was Mr. Wittich’s choice. He put himself where he ended up.”
Motl responded to the allegation that some politicians across the state have pulled back from running for office because of possible repercussions from his office.
“It’s just the opposite that we’ve found,” he said. “There is a great deal of relief and a sense of freedom being expressed by a large number of candidates who perceive themselves as the likely next target of this unprincipled, unreported, undisclosed dark money campaign run by National Right to Work, in this case.”
Motl is well aware of the perception that his office is biased against Republicans or conservatives in general.
“We are aware of that public perception because it’s been raised so many times, primarily by Mr. Wittich, that we guard against it,” he continued. “There are vetting procedures in place to make sure that one person is not making the decision. The ultimate decision, of course, lies with the commissioner, but we vet, we work in teams. We’re all Montanans here. There are only seven of us (in this office) and we work diligently to prevent that sort of thing from happening.”
Motl was asked if there was any higher authority that someone could appeal to, should they dispute a decision by his office.
“The commissioner can be impeached, can be removed from office because of malfeasance,” he said. “The commissioner is appointed by the Governor and is subject to one (six year) term. The commissioner is free to operate within that six year period without any higher authority, and it has to be that way, if you think about it. The commissioner may be asked to investigate, in fact, I just was, asked to investigate two statewide public officials. So, if the commissioner is investigating a statewide public official, there can’t be a statewide public official with the power to reverse. If you have that, then you end up with the Saturday Night Massacre, where Archibald Cox was removed by Richard Nixon. That public trust must be able to be enforced on anybody, no matter what political party, no matter how powerful, no matter how rich, that public trust obligation applies to everybody.”
The matter of whether or not Art Wittich will be removed from office has yet to be decided.