HELENA — A national anti-union organization offered a package called “the works” that illegally funded and managed campaign activities for select Republican candidates for the Montana Legislature, the state’s elections watchdog alleged.
The candidates who took the National Right to Work Committee’s package received assistance with fundraising, website production, voter research, direct mailings, voter identification lists and general campaign advice, Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said in a court filing.
The services, offered in legislative elections beginning in 2008, were provided for free, or in the case of letters sent to voters with the candidates’ scanned signature at the bottom, for the cost of the mailings, Motl said. The services were not reported to state officials and are illegal contributions to the campaigns of those who accepted them, Motl said.
Under state law, candidates are not allowed to accept corporate contributions.
Motl made the filing last month in his case against Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, whom the commissioner alleges illegally coordinated with and accepted undisclosed contributions from several corporate groups in his 2010 primary campaign. Motl says Wittich was one of the candidates who accepted “the works” package.
A trial is scheduled for March 28, and Wittich could be expelled from the state Legislature if a district judge upholds Motl’s findings.
Wittich on Tuesday dismissed Motl’s allegations as speculation, saying there’s no evidence he ordered such services.
“His case is crumbling, so he’s coming up with a brand-new theory,” Wittich said. “I was given nothing. I paid for mail services, and I paid the market rate and market value, which has been supported by my expert.”
Motl’s original civil complaint includes charges that Wittich had underpaid for services from third-party groups.
The commissioner declined to respond to Wittich or otherwise comment on the case.
“This is an important decision for the people of Montana, and I can’t comment other than what I have in legal documents because the case needs to be tried before the jury,” Motl said.
He said in his court filing that he uncovered emails and other documents in October that described “the works” package. Those and other documents show Right to Work controlled the budgets, expenses, leases, election activity, staffing and other groups that coordinated with or contributed to Wittich in the 2010 elections.
The package did not charge candidates for third-party staff work, Web development, research or database development, Motl said. The documents were not included in his court filing, which The Bozeman Daily Chronicle first reported.
A spokesman for the Right to Work Committee did not return a call or email for comment Tuesday. The national group is not named as a defendant in the case.
A separate campaign complaint pending in Motl’s office claims the committee operated a secret political mail operation that sent thousands of pieces of election material to Montana voters in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.
Motl has not yet acted on the complaint filed by Sandy Welch, a Republican who lost the 2012 election for superintendent of public instruction to Denise Juneau.
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