HELENA – A former Right to Work operative whom Montana officials allege ran shadow campaigns for select Republican candidates says in a sworn statement that he never helped candidates in exchange for their support of anti-union policies once they were elected.
Christian LeFer’s affidavit was filed as part of a federal lawsuit Monday, three days after a jury found Rep. Art Wittich coordinated with LeFer and the National Right to Work Committee in 2010. Wittich faces possible fines and expulsion from the Montana Legislature, and the case’s outcome could affect a pending lawsuit by the state against LeFer, his wife, Allison, and several Right to Work-affiliated groups.
The Wittich case also could help the state defend itself against a federal lawsuit challenging Montana’s low campaign contribution limits. A federal appeals court has said Montana must show the limits are preventing corruption, and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl points to the Wittich case and others like it as evidence of political corruption.
The statement by LeFer was filed in the lawsuit challenging the contribution limits. It is the first public response he’s made to the allegations that he illegally coordinated with 14 Republican candidates in exchange for their loyalty to Right to Work’s cause, as well as the causes of affiliated pro-gun, pro-resource development, anti-tax and anti-abortion groups.
In his statement, LeFer said he only referred candidates to his wife’s print shop, Direct Mail and Communications, and he mailed issue ads to voters from Montana Citizens for Right to Work independent of the candidates. His organization, Montana Citizens for Right to Work, was independent of the National Right to Work Committee, and his wife’s print shop operated independently of his organization, he said.
“At no time did I make an arrangement, explicit or implied, with a candidate that, in exchange for any efforts to get them elected, they would act in an official government capacity at my or MRTW’s direction as a public official,” LeFer’s affidavit said.
The services LeFer and his wife’s printing company offered included a direct mail program, campaign consulting, voter data, opposition research and website design, Motl said. Right to Work-affiliated groups also blanketed voters with letters supporting their chosen candidates and attacking their election opponents.
It is illegal in Montana for candidates to take corporate in-kind contributions and to coordinate their campaigns with corporations. Exchanging those services for a pledge of fealty from the candidates amounts to corruption, Motl alleges.
A former LeFer staffer testified during Wittich’s trial that LeFer’s campaign operation did just that. Candidates such as Wittich were required to sign a survey showing they backed the group’s principles before they were offered the package of services LeFer called “the works” or “Smart Simple Campaigns,” former Right to Work staffer Sarah Arnold said.
LeFer disputed that account, saying he didn’t recall using the term “the works,” and if he did, he probably meant his wife’s mail program.
Motl on Tuesday dismissed LeFer’s statement, pointing to the jury’s verdict finding Wittich took $19,500 worth of unreported corporate contributions from the LeFer-led groups. LeFer’s words are meaningless until he appears in Montana where he can be cross-examined, Motl said.
“I don’t believe a word that Christian LeFer is saying, and I would welcome the opportunity to have him say what he has to say in a forum where the truth can be explored,” Motl said.
LeFer has repeatedly declined or not responded to requests for interviews.
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