State Reinforces Request to Dismiss Hill Complaint

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The state is asking a federal court to dismiss former Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill’s amended request that it intervene in a pending complaint over a large campaign donation.

The state says that Hill’s modified complaint doesn’t change any of the underlying issues.

Earlier this year, Hill asked the U.S. District Court in Helena to block the commissioner of political practices from acting on a complaint over a $500,000 donation to the Hill campaign. The donation came last October after U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell briefly struck down Montana’s campaign donation limits.

The donation to Hill from the GOP surpassed the normal cumulative limit of $22,600 that would have applied in such cases.

Days later, the state’s donation limits were reinstated. Hill’s opponents then argued that the candidate should return the large donation. Gov. Steve Bullock’s campaign manager, Kevin O’Brien, filed a separate complaint with the state commissioner of political practices.

Hill wants the federal courts to block new Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl from acting on the complaint.

But Motl has argued that the complaint is premature because he plans no action until a federal appeals court issues a final ruling on the legality of Montana’s donation limits.

Motl’s office, along with the attorney general’s office, renewed that argument in a brief filed last week. A pretrial conference is scheduled Sept. 23 on the case.

The state also argues that the Hill complaint spent $400,000 on advertising seven days after an appeals court reinstated the state’s contribution limits.

The brief argues that Hill can’t bring a complaint to federal court before Motl ever rules on the case, or before Hill suffers harm with such a decision.

“Plaintiffs have shown no concrete, actual injury, but have instead articulated only a speculative injury, which is insufficient to establish standing,” the state argued.

The Hill campaign argued in a filing, revised in August, that it is holding $300,000 in its coffers because of the lawsuit. It argued it would like to donate the money to Republican candidates getting ready for 2014 elections, but can’t because of the threat of sanctions from Motl. The potential fines of $1.5 million are restricting the campaign from helping other candidates, it says.

The Hill campaign has said that a Commissioner of Political Practices staffer told it that the office wouldn’t penalize campaigns that took excess donations during the window when the limits were lifted.

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