HELENA – State Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, should be removed from office or fined for accepting illegal campaign help from several secretive conservative groups, the state political practices commissioner said in court filings Friday.
Also on Friday, Commissioner Jonathan Motl unleashed another round of complaints in his ongoing investigation of campaign activity by these groups – including a complaint targeting Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman.
The complaint, one of eight filed Friday with or by Motl’s office, said Wittich may have illegally coordinated with Western Tradition Partnership and affiliated groups in his 2010 campaign, and asked Wittich to respond.
The new complaints raised similar allegations against Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, in connection with his unsuccessful 2010 Gallatin County commission race, former state Rep. Pat Wagman, R-Livingston, in his 2010 primary race, and 2010 Republican state Senate candidate Wes Prouse of Billings.
Motl now has named nine candidates in complaints involving Western Tradition Partnership’s activities during the 2010 Montana elections, alleging the candidates accepted illegal contributions, failed to report contributions or illegally coordinated with the nonprofit conservative group.
Yet the allegations against Miller are the first time Motl has taken the case to District Court, as he asked District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena to fine or otherwise penalize Miller for breaking campaign laws.
“Mr. Miller not only received an unfair advantage in the (2010) contest for his legislative seat, but deceived the people of Montana by failing to fully report all campaign contributions,” Motl wrote.
Miller, a state representative since 2008, said Friday his 2010 campaign violated no laws, but declined to elaborate until he talked to an attorney.
In an interview, Wittich said Motl is making a “silly argument” by claiming that candidates who bought services from certain groups also illegally coordinated their campaign efforts with those groups.
He also called Motl a “partisan hack” who is biased against Republicans and is trying to “silence and gag conservative candidates” with his investigation.
Motl said Friday he’s equally applying the law to all parties, and that the litany of 2010 complaints surrounding Western Tradition Partnership involves Republicans making allegations against other Republicans in primary contests.
“It’s hard to see partisanship when the complaints concern a Republican primary between two Republican candidates,” he said. “The party doesn’t matter.”
Western Tradition Partnership, which later changed its name to American Tradition Partnership, spent thousands of dollars on campaign-related mailings and other activities in Montana elections in 2008, 2010 and 2012. It usually attacked candidates as being too “liberal” or not truly conservative.
The group and its affiliates did not report their spending or donors and sometimes sold their services to candidates, such as writing and distributing letters promoting the candidate.
A state judge ruled last year that WTP was a political committee and therefore must publicly report its finances. However, a former attorney for WTP has said the group is no longer active.
Motl said in court filings that Miller coordinated campaign mailers from WTP and its affiliates during his winning 2010 Republican primary campaign against Joe Dooling, and therefore accepted illegal contributions.
He also said that if the judge finds that Miller broke certain campaign laws, she should consider removing him from office, as state law allows.
WTP also successfully struck down the state’s voter-passed 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, which had banned direct corporate spending for or against Montana political candidates. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the law in 2011, but the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed it in 2012.