Beyond Politics As Usual

It is now evident why many legislators worked diligently to defeat legislation that promoted transparency

By Jesse O’Hara

The upcoming trial pitting the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) against Rep. Art Wittich (Bozeman) has been in the news lately. Thousands of pages of trial evidence released by the commissioner’s office uncover a dire picture of systemic campaign corruption and malfeasance. The volume of evidence is so damning that Wittich has chosen to publicly mock our legal process rather than factually address his innocence.

As the trial date nears, Montana’s media is increasingly inundated with letters and articles declaring that the commissioner is a “political hack” and that the trial is nothing more than a “partisan witch hunt.” This effort can be recognized for what it really is – a last ditch attempt, orchestrated by Wittich and his handlers, to exonerate themselves by convincing the public that the trial process has been sullied.

What does a quick purview of the thousands of pages of evidence suggest? Consider the following:

  • Wealthy, out-of-staters with vast Montana land holdings provided large sums of dark money to support the campaigns of judges and politicians who appeared aligned to undo Montana’s stream access laws. Apparently, these individuals want to remake the last best place by ensuring that the last best people no longer have the right to access our rivers and streams.
  • Outside political operatives, hiding behind the façade of National Right to Work, spent a fortune attacking legislators who would not swear fealty to their organization. When one of these operatives, Dennis Fusaro, finally realized what his employer was up to, he stated the following under oath, “When I got into politics and public policy … I did not agree to join some sort of white-collar Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia)…”
  • Clear indication that these operatives illegally coordinated their activity with the campaigns of their chosen puppets. They even offered a package called “the works,” which they promised would be unlike any political campaign previously used in Montana. So repulsive were their tactics that Montana became the subject of a national scandal revealed in the PBS documentary, “Big Sky, Big Money.”

The documents indicate that Wittich’s current attempt to diminish the evidence with specious and inflammatory rhetoric has no merit. Further, they reveal, that when fueled by some of the wealthiest in our nation, these transgressions came within a hair’s breadth of wresting control of Montana from Montanans.

Wittich’s trial is not about suppressing free speech as those that step into the light and identify themselves retain every right to speak freely. This is about outside dark money committed to irreversibly changing our way of life. It is about individuals who are willing to covertly forsake their constituents in exchange for a pathway to power.

It is now evident why many legislators worked diligently to defeat legislation that promoted transparency, for the corruption revealed by the light is disturbing. Montanans must remain ever vigilant as our citizen Legislature is an easy target for wealthy interests, a cheap date per se’, for seasoned political operatives.

Jesse O’Hara
Former Montana state senator