Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Rick Hill Campaign

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – $500,000 donation to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill appears to violate Montana’s campaign contribution limits, a state judge ruled Wednesday in an order preventing the former congressman from spending the money.

District Judge Kathy Seeley’s preliminary injunction continues a hold that has been in place since Thursday on the donation from the Montana Republican Party. The new order effectively keeps Hill’s campaign from spending the money through Tuesday’s election, as campaign manager Brock Lowrance said he doesn’t plan to appeal the ruling.

“Such a contribution would likely affect the outcome of the election,” Seeley wrote.

Hill and Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock are in a close race to replace Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who can’t run again because of term limits.

Bullock sued Hill to prevent him from using the $500,000 donation, which was transferred to the state GOP by the Republican Governor’s Association.

Lowrance said he disagrees with the ruling but the campaign will comply and use funds “that are undisputed and that meet the judge’s requirements.”

“Over the past week our campaign has received overwhelming support coming from Montanans who are outraged at the acts of desperation coming from Steve Bullock’s campaign. People are donating their time, money and effort to keep our campaign running strong,” he said.

Lowrance added there is not enough time left in the race to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court but he is confident the case ultimately will be decided for Hill.

Bullock’s campaign released a statement that said Seeley’s decision confirms no one is above the law.

“Congressman Hill now needs to do the right thing and give the illegal contribution back,” campaign manager Kevin O’Brien said.

Seeley agreed with Bullock’s argument that the former congressman should not be allowed to spend the donation even though it was made after a federal judge threw out the state’s contribution limits on Oct. 3.

That’s because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated those limits six days later, meaning a candidate once more could keep only the maximum $22,600 in donations from all political parties made over the course of the campaign.

Hill’s attorney had argued that since the $500,000 was given during the six-day period when there were no limits, the contribution was legal.

“Regardless of when the campaign actually received the contributions at issue here, Hill’s campaign now has received total or aggregate contributions from the Republican Party far in excess of the total campaign limits,” Seeley wrote in her order.

The injunction bars the Hill campaign from spending any contributions in excess of the limits, and orders the campaign to halt any ads that have been purchased with the money. The order does not affect any campaign funds that are within the limits.

It will remain in place until a final judgment in Bullock’s lawsuit against Hill over the legality of the donation.

The injunction is effectively a continuation of a temporary restraining order by Seeley that had been in effect since Thursday. The Hill campaign canceled all television ads and most campaign activity for five days to comply with that order until the campaign had raised enough money it could definitively say was not part of the GOP donation.

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