Illegal Coordination Alleged in Lawmaker’s Corruption Trial

Wittich is accused of turning over his campaign to groups operating under the National Right to Work Committee

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — A former staffer for an anti-union nonprofit group alleged during court testimony Tuesday that state Rep. Art Wittich illegally coordinated with her group during his 2010 campaign.

Sarah Arnold, who worked for National Right to Work, testified that the Republican lawmaker had to have known about the value of handwritten letters, staff time, voter data and other campaign services she and the group provided him, the Helena Independent Record reported.

Wittich, of Bozeman, is accused of essentially turning over his campaign to groups operating under the National Right to Work Committee.

The outcome of Wittich’s trial could influence a federal lawsuit challenging Montana’s campaign contribution limits. Attorneys for the state must prove that the contribution caps are preventing actual corruption or its appearance, and they have pointed to the case against Wittich and eight other candidates as that proof.

The day in court wrapped up with a similar round of testimony from Andrew O’Neill, a Seattle-based photographer and former group staffer who helped build Wittich’s 2010 campaign website.

Jon Motl, commission of political practices, says Wittich underpaid for but still received services in exchange for his loyalty to the group.

Candidates cannot receive direct contributions from corporations under Montana law.

A jury will decide in the trial expected to last through Friday whether Wittich coordinated with the groups, whether they gave him the alleged services and if so, what the value of the services were.

Wittich has denied taking unreported contributions and accused Motl of engaging in a political “witch hunt.”

Defense attorney Quentin Rhoades referred to research and information technology services provided by Arnold and O’Neill as “cut-and-paste” jobs not worth the thousands of dollars Motl has alleged Wittich ought to have paid for them.

Rhoades also questioned how Arnold could have known whether Wittich bought any of the group’s services, given that she did not handle Right to Work’s billing inquiries.

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