What happens when Montana’s top political ethics enforcer is himself accused of unethical practices on the job? Thanks to a recent investigative story in the Great Falls Tribune by former Indy reporter John S. Adams, we’re about to find out.
The ethics complaints against Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik are not coming from Republicans who recall Gallik’s terms in Montana’s House of Representatives and his active role in Democratic party politics. Nope. They come from the four women who work in the Office of Political Practices, who say Gallik is running his private law practice while being paid to do his state job. That would be bad enough, but they also claim he’s fraudulently charging the state for time he hasn’t put in. They’re alleging a classic case of double-dipping, in which an otherwise intelligent politician decides for some reason that the rules he’s paid to enforce don’t apply to him.
What’s left of our shredded legal rights holds that people are innocent until proven guilty, so Gallik will undoubtedly have an opportunity to contest the allegations, which he denies. Their depth and breadth make them look like a mighty big hill for Gallik to crest, however. “An analysis of emails, photographs, court records and state time sheets obtained by the Tribune appear to dispute Gallik’s claim” of innocence, the paper said.
Mary Baker, the program supervisor for the commissioner’s office, was blunt as she was quoted in the Tribune: “Dave Gallik has been committing ethics violations since he got here. He has been doing private-practice attorney work in the commissioner’s office since the day he walked in.” Those violations, according to the article, allegedly include “fudging time sheets and clocking state time he hasn’t actually worked,” which the staffers say is “stealing from the taxpayers.”
When Gallik first came to the office, he told the staff that he wanted them to work “seamlessly” with his private law office staff.
“We told him in no uncertain terms that he can’t do that,” an investigator for the commissioner’s office told Adams. “We drew the line prior to him coming here as to what he could and couldn’t do,” Baker added. “I said we were not going to be calling his staff and coordinating with them.”
Gallik told the Tribune that Gov. Brian Schweitzer was fully aware that Gallik would be continuing his private law practice when Schweitzer appointed him Commissioner of Political Practices. “It was never a secret,” Gallik says in the article.
Given the demands on the Commissioner of Political Practices and the potential for conflicts of interest or ethical violations, it’s a puzzle why Schweitzer would appoint someone to this full-time job (with full benefits and $57,689 a year in compensation) with the understanding that the appointee would also be running a private law practice at the same time. Perhaps Schweitzer or his staff could claim some misunderstanding at the time of the appointment, but even that feeble excuse seems to have been shot full of holes.
In August, according to the Tribune, two Political Practices staffers met with Vivian Hamill, Schweitzer’s chief of staff, to alert her that Gallik was charging the state for time he did not put in. According to their account, Gallik may have been doing half the time he claimed. Baker, who signed the office’s time sheets, said, “I was not at all comfortable putting my signature on that form when I knew that the hours he was reporting were not accurate.”
After that meeting, Baker told the Tribune, her impression was that the governor’s office was not happy with the situation and told her it would be “nipped in the bud.” But that didn’t happen, and now Schweitzer says Gallik is simply “working two jobs.”
“We wish the governor would have checked with us regarding what Dave Gallik has done,” the staffers wrote in response, according to the Tribune. “We apologize to the governor for having to give him the facts, but if he is naïve enough to believe [Gallik], and not check to see that what he is saying is true, then he will be embarrassed to find out Dave is taking credit for other people’s work.”
The staffers contend that most of Gallik’s work for the office was actually either done by his predecessors or cut and pasted from staff work.
“We wouldn’t give a damn about what he put down for hours if he was actually getting the job done,” one of the staffers told the Tribune, adding that Gallik has only issued one ruling on his own since he took the position.
We’re in an election year, with most of Montana’s statewide offices up for grabs and a record number of candidates filing to fill them. It’ll be as busy as it can get for the Office of Political Practices. Given the distrust of politicians these days, Montanans need and deserve an unblemished Commissioner of Political Practices, not one under public scrutiny for alleged fraud and ethics violations.
For the good of the state, Schweitzer should ask Gallik to step down until these allegations are fully investigated.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.