Montana is one of 27 states in which no outside agency oversees ethical conduct of state legislators. It is one of 9 of those states where an outside ethics agency does oversee disclosure for members of the legislature, in this case both personal financial disclosure and campaign finance disclosure.
Montana is among the 22 states that established outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements of legislators in the post-Watergate 1970s.
Of the 32 states that have outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements for legislators — 23 that cover ethics and disclosure, plus nine that cover disclosure only — Montana is one of 17 where the legislature has some involvement in choosing commission members. Only three states — California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — have members picked without the input of the legislature.
Montana is among 10 states that did not approve a budget for its ethics agency exceeding the rate of inflation, or 7 percent, between 1997 and 2000. Those states include Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and West Virginia. Two state ethics agency budgets — in Missouri and Montana — actually decreased during this time period.
Of the 32 two states with outside ethics and/or disclosure oversight, only two ethics agencies — in Florida and West Virginia — cannot initiate an investigation or investigate an anonymous complaint. Only one agency, Alabama’s, cannot issue subpoenas.
Only Nebraska’s ethics agency can directly prosecute criminal cases against legislators; 25 more agencies can recommend criminal prosecution to the appropriate authority, including Montana’s ethics agency. Only Rhode Island’s ethics agency has the power to remove legislators from office; another 11 state agencies can recommend removal as part of punishment, unlike Montana’s, which cannot.
Opinions and Investigative Findings
All 32 outside agencies that oversee some ethics and/or disclosure requirements for legislators can issue advisory opinions. Montana is one of 18 states that does publish legislator names within the advisory opinion reports, which cannot be found on the agency’s Web site. Copies can be requested from the state agency.
Just three states — Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — have not issued a finding against a legislator for violating disclosure-filing requirements in the past five years.
Montana is among the 14 state agencies, of 32 with oversight of ethics and/or disclosure laws for the legislature, that do not have at least one public meeting per month. The legislature passed a law setting up a commission in 1995, but never installed the members. In 2001, that statute was repealed.
Since the agency does not oversee legislators’ conduct, is legislative oversight defined in statute?
Yes. Montana Code Annotated s.2-2-135 establishes a house and senate ethics committees. The committees must consist of two members of each political party and may meet jointly.
Are there state statutes that address ethical conduct for legislators?
Yes. Montana Code Annotated Title 2, Chapter 2, “Standards of Conduct,” contains provisions applying to legislators.
Note: Some information provided by the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws’ “Ethics Update” 2000. For more information or to purchase the reference, visit www.cogel.org.