Montana Senate confirms Chris Gallus as Commissioner of Political Practices
The Commissioner of Political Practices office. (Commissioner of Political Practices)
New Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus joked outside of the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon that he had three times the opposition to his confirmation than his predecessor, Jeff Mangan.
“But, you know, 47 to 3 is a good, solid vote,” he said.
Gallus, the longtime attorney with a history of working in Montana political circles, said he was pleased he was confirmed to the position by the overwhelming majority, even if only one person voted against Mangan’s confirmation back in 2017. The Senate State Administration Committee sent Gallus’ appointment to the full body in a unanimous vote last week.
Gallus said he hoped that the vote speaks well for the office as he takes over for a six-year term as the nonpartisan commissioner who will oversee and enforce Montana campaign finance law, investigate campaign and lobbying complaints, and oversee state ethics standards.
“I’m humbled by it,” Gallus said. “And we’ll go ahead and, you know, do what needs to be done. And we’ll do it on a case-by-case basis, and apply the facts to the law that the legislature creates and reach decisions that way – because that’s what we’re tasked to do.”
Only three lawmakers – Democratic Sens. Willis Curdy, Jen Gross and Susan Webber – voted against Gallus’ confirmation. He said one of the senators said they couldn’t get to a yes vote because of an issue surrounding his pledge to recuse himself from cases involving groups he has previously represented.
Gallus chalked up the support he received from most Democrats – some of whom had questioned whether he was right for the job because of his past work with many right-leaning organizations – to having met with much of the Senate Democratic caucus and nearly all lawmakers individually following his appointment in January.
He said he sees the commissioner position the same as it’s been since the office was created in the mid-1970s – getting public information out to the public, as he put it.
“This is to promote transparency, access to information, and make sure that all of the reports that are required to be filed are filed, they’re accurate and they’re on time,” Gallus said. “And if that doesn’t occur, that there’s a reasonable kind of approach, typically, that we take to things to accomplish that.”
Gallus said he and his office currently have “a couple” cases, including some sent to Mangan just before he departed the office in December. Gallus said he had set those cases aside as he awaited confirmation but would now start work on them.
The attorney position within the office remains vacant; Gallus said it can sometimes be difficult for an attorney to sign up for the job because the funding for the position is typically one-time-only and the new budget year starts July 1. He said he was working with the governor’s budget director.
Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, who carried the resolution to confirm Gallus, said he had somewhat dreaded the confirmation process, which he said he believed could “turn into kind of a dogfight.”
But he said Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte “came up with an excellent nomination” who was well received by most in both parties and who stood up to questions from members of both parties last week.
Sen. Janet Ellis, D-Helena, said she had met with Gallus multiple times, questioning him about his representation of groups who often come before the commissioner. She said he had been “clear” that he would recuse himself from those matters and that he would have her vote because of his willingness to meet with senators of both parties and what she called his “transparency.”
After 26 years practicing law, mostly in the political sphere, Gallus told the Daily Montanan becoming commissioner was something he wanted to do at this point in his career and a position that had long interested him.
“It’s Montana, right? So, there was some general practice and things like that, but I’ve stayed pretty true to that. Elections, election law, campaign finance issues, constitutional issues – things like that,” Gallus said. “And then, (I) occasionally had to go with a friend’s kid, you know, to Justice of the Peace court, too.”
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