From the Commissioner…
March 3, 2014
Dear Fellow Montanan:
A number of Montanans have asked that we address the COPP's treatment by the 2015 Montana House of Representatives. As you likely know, at this time the 2015 Montana House appears poised to slash the COPP's budget by over $100,000, including termination of the sole COPP staff attorney. Given that the COPP has an annual budget of $580,000 and 7 staff, including the Commissioner, that is a significant hit to the function of this Office.
Our response begins with the understanding that the election nature of COPP work creates an underlying legislative antipathy to the funding and existence of the COPP. The COPP was created in 1975, after the Watergate election scandals demonstrated the need for an election watchdog. During its 40 year history COPP staff have ably assisted candidates in filing campaign finance reports and have worked to make those reports available for viewing by the press, public and opposing candidates. In general, this candidate assistance and transparency work has been done well, so well that the clear benefit of these actions allowed the COPP to overcome the inherent tension its watchdog function created with the Legislature.
This brings us to 2015. The COPP's traditional candidate assistance and transparency work was recognized and praised. The COPP, however, had an additional 2015 legislative agenda as it supported legislation promoting increased transparency in the form of additional reporting periods and electronic reporting by candidates. Further, the COPP engaged in markedly increased campaign practice enforcement activity, including enforcement against former candidates now serving in the Legislature. Added to the normal watchdog tension, then, was this new friction created by COPP's push for new reporting and the COPP's increased enforcement actions.
For whatever reason, the governmental operations budget committee of the Montana House voted to take away the COPP in-house counsel, the only attorney in the State of Montana who enforces campaign finance law. But, it is not over yet. Even after House passage (which we have been told is likely), the COPP budget battle has stops remaining in the Senate and the Governor's Office. In the end we trust that the Legislature will act to preserve the COPP's already bare bones funding and thereby preserve meaningful election oversight. Montana citizens, of course, may weigh in on this issue by contacting their legislator
Thank you for your attention paid to work of the COPP. We hope and trust our work improved your perception of fairness in elections and of responsiveness of government to the complaints of its citizens. Please feel free to call me or any member of the COPP staff if you have questions about our work.
Commissioner of Political Practices
The Commissioner has jurisdiction over laws and rules pertaining to: