Friday links! Why lie? edition


Were it not for Valentine’s Day, April Fools’ Day would be our most resented holiday. That shit divides people. Part of the problem lies in disagreement over what constitutes a prank. Merely lying to us is A) not exactly a holiday feat and B) minimally entertaining for us, the fooled. Now, the prank depicted above: that’s a foolin’. It’s startling, efficient, and—this is important—amusing once we realize we’ve been had. It’s not just a counterfactual statement you followed with “April fool!” Mark Twain recommended the truth on the grounds that the person who tells it has less to remember. Really it’s that invention is unnecessary. Today is Friday, and what has actually happened would strain credulity even at another date. Won’t you peruse the foolish truth with me?

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Motl clears backlog of election complaints for first time in 18 years

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl (Photo by Alex Sakariassen)

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl (Photo by Alex Sakariassen)

Montana has had 11 commissioners of political practices since 1975, which is odd, because they’re supposed to serve for six years. No commissioner has completed a term since 2004. The position is appointed by the governor of Montana but approved by the senate, and those two seats of power have been occupied by different parties for the last decade. The status of his office as a political football only makes it more impressive that, earlier this month, Motl became the first commissioner of political practices in two decades to clear the complaint docket.

The last time that happened was 1998. The commission has issued 286 decisions since then—144 of them since Motl took office in 2013. That he has done more in the last two years than his predecessors did in 16 undercuts the claim that he is selectively enforcing the law against conservatives. His clear docket refutes it. It’s hard to argue he only pursues complaints against his enemies when he’s answered every single one.

But that’s what Art Wittich (R-Belgrade) insists. Since Motl filed a lawsuit alleging he failed to report in-kind donations and illegally coordinated with conservative nonprofits during his 2010 campaign, Wittich has claimed to be the victim of a political smear. In January, he got a boost from an unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which misreported the governor’s first name and failed to observe that Western Tradition Partnership, the group with which Wittich stands accused of coordinating in 2010, and American Tradition Partnership—the group his law firm represented in a campaign-finance lawsuit that year—are the same entity. So B-minus fact-checking, Wall Street Journal.

That’s Pulitzer journalism compared to the piece Will Swaim wrote for Reason last weekend, though. Headlined Montana Commission on Political Practices Targets Ideological Opponents, It is the only piece Swaim has contributed to that publication. He’s an editor at, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. In 2011, the Franklin Center received 95% of its funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, two linked 501(c)3 organizations that offer their contributors anonymity and the guarantee their money won’t go to liberal causes.

Donors Trust has also funded the legal defense foundation of National Right to Work, one of the organizations with which the Wittich campaign is accused of coordinating. Swaim, a quote-unquote journalist who believes Commissioner Motl is a partisan hack, happens to be funded by the same organizations Motl is pursuing. This is why we need a commissioner of political practices. It’s also why I can’t wait for March, when Motl v. Wittich will finally get its day weeks in court and absolve Rep. Wittich of all wrongdoing. You can read all about in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

President: dick?

Yesterday, President Obama announced that he would address a joint session of Congress regarding jobs and the economy on September 7—the same night, it turns out, as a Republican presidential debate. Exactly how it turned out is a matter of conjecture. Press secretary Jay Carney insisted that the date was not chosen to conflict with the debate, noting that there were going to be 20 of those things and that “one debate of many was no reason not to have a speech when we wanted to have it.” Still, I bet they have a big calendar in the White House, and Obama’s move seemed like a deliberate provocation. Fortunately for everyone, he was provoking John Boehner, which is like trying to get a fish to gasp. “As the majority leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, Sept. 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening,” Boehner wrote, asking the President to move the speech to September 8. Guess which date they compromised on!

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