HELENA – The state political practices commissioner concluded that Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich violated the law by coordinating with Western Tradition Partnership and other entities to accept illegal corporate donations in his 2010 primary election campaign.

Later Tuesday, Commissioner Jonathan Motl filed a civil complaint against Wittich, a Republican legislator from Bozeman, in District Court in Helena.

Motl asked District Judge Mike Menahan to uphold his findings and consider removing Wittich from the 2014 ballot and fine him three times the amount of the violations determined by the court. Wittich is running for the Montana House this year.

There’s no precedent for removing a candidate from the ballot since the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices was created in 1975.

“But there’s no precedent in any commissioners’ decisions in the history of this office for this extensive corporate involvement in campaigns,” Motl said in an interview. “There is not a precedent for a candidate not to produce (campaign accounting) records either.”

In response, Wittich said he broke no law and would fight Motl’s decision in court. All of his 2010 campaign activities were “consistent with the practice and the customs and the rules of the time,” the legislator said.

“Motl disregarded long-standing precedent and redefined coordination with a third-party group,” Wittich said. “I think it’s politically motivated. I think he wants to gag candidates before the primary and general election.”

Motl issued the 37-page decision as part of his continuing investigation of the involvement of Western Tradition Partnership, now known as American Tradition Partnership, in Republican legislative races in 2010 and 2012.

He has concluded in cases against six other Republican legislative candidates that they appeared to have broken state campaign laws when they coordinated with Western Tradition Partnership on campaign mailers that promoted themselves or attacked their opponents in 2010.

WTP formed in 2008 as an “anti-environmentalist” group and since has paid for thousands of campaign mailers attacking and promoting legislative candidates in Montana in 2008, 2010 and 2012. This so-called “dark money” group has never reported any of its campaign-related spending in Montana, or its donors, insisting that it is educating voters on issues, not advocating for or against candidates.

***

In Wittich’s case, Motl found that Western Tradition Partnership and related groups produced at least 12,554 letters for his campaign at a cost of slightly more $7,000. Motl determined that the 45 to 50 cents that Wittich paid for the letters didn’t cover the cost of the stamps, envelopes, paper and ink.

Motl found that Wittich paid nothing to Western Tradition Partnership for its services in writing, editing, laying out and processing the letters.

He concluded that Wittich had cooperated with and approved of the services in some of the letters. His signature was “print-signed” on the letters, and he partially paid for them, Motl said.

“The undisclosed and unreported intro and closing letter services provided to candidate Wittich were provided by a corporation, whether through the WTP corporation or the Direct Mail corporation,” Motl said. Direct Mail operated a print shop in Livingston.

Wittich didn’t admit to any coordination with WTP. Motl called his response “not credible.”

The commissioner also said that Wittich has failed to disclose and report to the public the names and addresses of 16 contributors to his campaign and failed to maintain campaign records for the four-year period required under state law.

“The many decisions to act or not to act made by candidate Wittich in this matter were choices,” Motl wrote. “Excusable neglect cannot be applied to such choices. ...

“Montana has determined that political discourse is more fairly advanced when election funding is kept fair and, through disclosure, the public is informed as to the identity of those who seek to influence elections. There can be no excuse for instances of failing to attribute, report and disclose, or for acceptance of corporate in-kind contributions, such as are involved in this matter.”

Motl also warned candidates for office in 2014 “to avoid the sort of election entanglement or involvement with a nonprofit or for-profit corporation that candidate Wittich had with WTP and/or Direct Mail.”

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

(29) comments

R U KIDDING
R U KIDDING

As a constitutional conservative, I regret to inform you there are not two parties, there is one. This single party is separated by two letters of the alphabet, and neither letters care two bits about you. You can point fingers all you want, celebrate with joy when one or the other has done wrong. The bottom line is these stories don't affect or benefit one alphabet letter or the other, it affects American's. We did elect them to be scandalous, we elected them to represent us.

Fawzhuh
Fawzhuh

" We did(n't) elect them to be scandalous, we elected them to represent us." In an ideal world we could expect that this is true. Unfortunately, more and more frequently, the only consideration given to the choice is "How are my family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances going to feel if I vote for "the wrong person?"

NoturAverageBear
NoturAverageBear

It's not a ball team, or a ball game. You don't have to remain loyal to the team you chose to aline yourself with....there are two evils here, one is much worse than the other. The party who is the worst of the two will always be in the spotlight the most, that's just how it works. If you don't like that your party is the one getting all the bad attention, change them! Vote differently! Inform them what you want, and if they don't change their ways, Vote differently!

--Maybe you're getting exactly what you what now?

The republican party is not the party of my parents' youth, they are not the republican party of my youth, I now vote against them and for the lesser of the two evils!

Yeah, the system is not only broken all to ####, it is all EFFED UP!
I blame corporate money, greed, and reality TV!

NoturAverageBear
NoturAverageBear

Please forgive the typo: Maybe you're getting exactly what you 'WANT' now?

Leadfoot
Leadfoot

Now, let's see. this is about the 20th article about Jonathan Motl using his office to attack ONLY Republicans. He does it after sitting on his backside until months from the election & says that he only filed at this time because of the statute of limitations. Rubbish. This is a political attack, pure and simple, done at a time to affect the next election, with little time left to prove in court what Motl is doing. He ignores Bullock's violations without a word. They are well known. His record is that of the usual run of the mill Democrat prosecutor, too. About 0 for 10 in complaints against Republicans running for office. It's obvious what the agenda is, here. It somewhat surprises me that the somewhat analytical thinkers out there don't see through this smoke screen. The Democrats have more big-buck out of state donors than any party has had at any time. Why? Because the Democrats can be bought. Doesn't matter if it is blocking an oil pipeline or buying an election commissioner. Part of the payoff is to keep the Republicans off the ballots anyway possible, since they cannot be defeated in the coming elections thanks to ObamaCare. Ask Motl about the court outcomes of his attacks upon state Rep. Patrick Connell & Rep. Mike Miller. Art Wittich is just one in a long line of Republicans placed in the crosshairs for doing what the Dems have been doing since elections started. Motl is an appointed political hack who will do anything to take away voting choices from Montanans. Look for the "D" after the name on the ballot, then draw a line through it & clean up Montana.

Deadwolf
Deadwolf

Four points to consider...one, is this just another witch hunt to remove political opposition? Two, do you think the Democrats are different? Three, why has the Missoulian not reported on the PAC that was fined by Motl? Is is because this PAC is made up of Democrats and left leaning RINO's? Four, there is battle going on for the hearts and minds of the people. It boils down to less freedom or more. These two sides will clash. Inevitable. Think the Democrats are innocent? Look at all the legislators, all Democrats, that have been arrested by federal agencies around the country recently. Yee...haw.

rooter
rooter

"The truth is becoming apparent; Republicans can only win by breaking campaign laws. They also have to repress the vote and cover up what their real agenda is. No one would vote for them if they knew"
Readneck do tell your secret. Inquiring minds are eager to learn. I'm especially interested in their real agenda. Unless you just want to repress the truth, like Obama. I get that.

Readneck
Readneck

Their real agenda is their social agenda; religious enforcement, suppression of women's rights, the teaching of myths rather than science, etc. Republicans can't campaign on these things because most Americans do not want them.

BJackson
BJackson

I am a republican and have not followed any of the things you are claiming Readneck. Most Americans don't know what they want, as many vote blindly without making an informed choice, if people would actually educate themselves on these issues as well as candidate positions, the country would be in a much better position.

NoturAverageBear
NoturAverageBear

I believe their "real agenda" is really quite simple: Total Power and Control, all of it!. Getting to that power and control is more complex. The "social agenda" is just one wedge tool, of many, used to divide us. And it speaks to a large faction of their constituents. The social conservatives, mostly in the ("bible belt") south with their creationism museums, and religion in public schools, and denial of science, and a church on every corner--good place for politics....political brain washing, that is.

They use to be the "party of family values", but you don't hear that 'line' much anymore.
They use to be the "party of the working man", but they don't even try to hide the fact it is the rich they truly represent, and the common man be dam#ed!

libertarian
libertarian

That's why legislators want the power to control and we'll get there by any means possible. Republicans had control of the 2012 legislative sessions yet spending increased over 13-percent.

Greg Strandberg
Greg Strandberg

This man is not good for Montana.

Fawzhuh
Fawzhuh

You're right! We should get a Commissioner that investigates BOTH parties!

Run - A- Mook
Run - A- Mook

Fawzhuh you nailed it.

The_Boneshackler
The_Boneshackler

This is ridiculous. Awarding public offices to the highest bidder is the American Way. One dollar, one vote.

Readneck
Readneck

The truth is becoming apparent; Republicans can only win by breaking campaign laws. They also have to repress the vote and cover up what their real agenda is. No one would vote for them if they knew.

PapaBear
PapaBear

Like Montana democrats and the Baucus machine funding a last minute phony libertarian campaign to help elect the rotund democrat socialist Tester? Motl sure missed that one. Time to make the political practices office an elected position to get it away from the hard left, of which Motl is one.

BJackson
BJackson

The truth that is becoming apparent is both sides of the card have crooks involved and that power corrupts everybody, get off the republican thing and start looking at the problems, which both parties have problems. Stop putting the crooks back in office and start getting new blood in there.

BR
BR

If Mr. Wittich is going to represent Montana citizens he must obey the law.

NoturAverageBear
NoturAverageBear

That's just it, out-of-state money buying Montana representation has no interest in representing Montana citizens.

Kate55
Kate55

Hooray! Will we see justice happen here?

Miss Perfect
Miss Perfect

Montana must be bucking the trend......from California to New Jersey, we see state senators, governors and congressmen getting indicted.....ALL of them democrats.

ds
ds

Robert McDonnell ring a bell? And the major players of the administration of Chris Christie? Just the most recent. Power corrupts, and the people who love power the most are corrupted the most absolutely.

Miss Perfect
Miss Perfect

No.....what does it mean to you? No indictments at all in the New Jersey affair........yet in CALIforia ALONE there Senate Leader Darryl Steinberg had to REMOVE three sitting democrats, from his own party.

Miss Perfect
Miss Perfect

His signature was “print-signed” on the letters, and he partially paid for them, Motl said.
Ouuuuhhhhhhhh! That is some filthy dirt!

Motl is a demorat stooge.......who was the last republican he lied about? Nothing stuck on that fiasco either.

Montana Democrats are really Progressives ......and the rule of law is what ever they say it is. Here we see Motl trying to intimidate republicans.....

"Motl also warned candidates for office in 2014 “to avoid the sort of election entanglement or involvement with a nonprofit or for-profit corporation that candidate Wittich had with WTP and/or Direct Mail.”

Perhaps it is Motl who should be sued? Yes.......I think I see this coming soon.

Miss Perfect
Miss Perfect

Not this again! Motl is a stooge for the demorats.......none of his dirt sticks and the Missoulian just keeps printing the fantasies.

Readneck
Readneck

Motl is a stooge for the law.

Fawzhuh
Fawzhuh

Could not have said it better! Thank you!
stooge - a weak or unimportant person who is controlled by a powerful person, organization, etc. (Merriam-Webster)

Run - A- Mook
Run - A- Mook

Read; For once you may be right.

stooge
noun: stooge; plural noun: stooges
1. derogatory a person who serves merely to support
or assist others, particularly in doing unpleasant work.
synonyms: underling, minion, lackey, subordinate;
henchman; puppet, pawn."a government stooge"

Stooges three; Bullock, Walsh, Motl.

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