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  Comments (1) Total Wednesday Apr. 23, 2014
National Association Revealed as Source of $500K Hill Donation
Campaign seeking to block restraining order
HELENA – Rick Hill's campaign is simultaneously contesting and trying to comply with a state judge's order that temporarily bars him from spending a disputed $500,000 donation whose source was revealed Thursday as the Republican Governor's Association.

The Montana Republican Party donated the money to the gubernatorial candidate Oct. 4 but had declined to say where it came from. A state GOP finance report filed with the commissioner of political practices shows the national organization gave $685,000 to the state party between Oct. 3 — the day a judge tossed out the state's campaign contribution limits — and Oct. 4 — the day of the Hill donation.

That two-day transfer represents the majority of the $885,000 the Republican Governor's Association has given the state party over the election cycle.

The state party's donation to Hill came during a six-day period after U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell ruled the state's contribution limits unconstitutional on Oct. 3, and before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated them Oct. 9 pending an appeal.

The GOP also donated $32,000 to Republican attorney general candidate Tim Fox during that period. Fox's campaign said he returned that donation Thursday, as his opponent, Pam Bucy, filed a lawsuit against him over the contribution.

Political parties can contribute a combined $22,600 to gubernatorial candidates and $8,150 to attorney general candidates.

"They did not solicit the money and we didn't have control on how it was spent," RGA communications director Mike Schrimpf said of the state party. "We just thought it was the best time to give to the party, and I'm not going to go into the details."

None of the RGA's money spent in Montana is from corporate sources, said Mike Adams, treasurer of RGA's Right Direction political action committee, in a letter to state commissioner of political practices Jim Murry.

Hill stands by his position that the contribution was legal because of Lovell's ruling, while his opponent, Democrat Steve Bullock, is suing the former congressman to force him to return the $500,000. Bullock argues that Hill should have to return it now that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the law because the limits regulate the total contributions over the course of an election cycle.

Judge Kathy Seeley issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday preventing Hill from spending the donation or airing ads purchased with it before a Monday court hearing.

Hill campaign manager Brock Lowrance said Thursday the campaign was taking steps to comply with the order by notifying television stations and pulling ads.

Hill planned to lend the campaign $100,000 of his own money to ensure some campaign ads will still run while meeting the conditions of the temporary restraining order, Lowrance said.

"So far the action has cost our campaign about $100,000 dollars in advertising that we won't be getting back. We are shifting our campaign strategy to comply with the judge's order and our campaign is moving forward," he said.

The campaign's attorneys also filed an emergency motion Thursday with Lovell, the judge who had ruled the contribution limits unconstitutional, in an attempt to block Seeley's temporary restraining order.

The request comes a day after another federal judge ruled the case should be heard in state court.

"Judge Seeley's order requires the Hill campaign to cancel its remaining commercials and refrain from spending any of the money in the campaign's account. The campaign is effectively shut down without relief from this court," Hill's federal court filing said.

Lowrance and state Republican Party officials called Seeley a partisan judge and released her past campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.

As the dispute was playing out in the governor's race, new legislative campaign finance reports revealed additional candidates accepted donations above the contribution limits between Oct. 3 and Oct. 9, said Murry, the commissioner of political practices.

New finance reports for legislative candidates were arriving in Murry's office for Thursday's reporting deadline, and several showed donations made that were above the reinstated limits.

"Many candidates received money during that window and will probably have to be determined by the courts," Murry said.

The dispute over campaign contribution limits is dominating the governor's race in its final weeks before the Nov. 6 election. It will likely test the state's election laws in a way that will affect future campaigns, said Jonathan Motl, the Helena attorney who authored the 1994 voter initiative setting Montana's campaign contribution limits.

"It isn't just a risky move for candidate Hill. It isn't just his candidacy at stake here," Motl said. "(It may) be beneficial to a candidate in the short run, but that candidate is just one of a long number of people who hold public office and seek public office and the greater question is what does it do to people's faith and confidence in the political system — and it harms it."

If a court ultimately finds Hill violated the law by accepting the donation, the state statutes call for penalties from a fine to removal from office, if Hill wins the election before the case is decided.

That decision that will be left to the courts if Hill is found to be in the wrong.

The law setting the contribution limits was approved by 61 percent of voters in 1994, then later amended to adjust for inflation.

Motl said the limits were determined after analyzing campaign contributions for the previous four elections and studying U.S. Supreme Court cases, and said they have previously been upheld in court.
On 10-26-12, DaveBriggs commented....
The real story here is how Bullock has been found guilty on 11 counts of passing illegal checks! This is of course not to mention the multiple other campaign violations that he is under investigation for which are easy shown on the MT Commissioner of Political Practices website.
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