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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Wittich Fined $68,000, Can Keep House Seat

Rep. Art Wittich (R) HD68
Montana Legislature
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  Today a judge fined state Representative Art Wittich $68,000 for campaign finance violations from 2010 that a jury found him guilty of in April. But the judge said Wittich does not have to give up his seat in the legislature.

District Judge Ray Dayton handed down the penalty today in Anaconda.

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, who brought the civil case against Wittich, wanted him removed from office.

Motl also wanted stiffer financial damages ordered, more than double what the judge handed down.

Although the penalties were not what Motl hoped for, he says he respects the judge’s decision.

“There is a huge amount of respect and appreciation for what Judge Dayton did, managing the trial, in getting it to trial and resolving it in a way that the people of Montana have some closure on this,” Motl said today.

Wittich served one term in the Montana Senate seat he won in the 2010 election. The campaign contributions he was found to have taken illegally that year were related to his victory in the Republican primary.

Wittich went on to become state Senate majority leader in 2013, and then was elected in 2014 to the state House. He still holds that seat. But Wittich lost a bid for re-election to it in this June’s Montana primary.

Wittich declined to comment for this story, but he denies any wrongdoing in the handling of his campaign finances.

Jurors found that Wittich took more than $19,000 in illegal and unreported in-kind contributions from the National Right to Work Committee and its affiliates.

The contributions included campaign consulting, direct mail, voter data, opposition research and website design, along with a coordinated campaign of attack mailers against his primary opponent.

His attorney Quentin Rhoades said Wittich has been attacked by the commissioner of political practices without cause.

“Throughout this case Motl has called Representative Wittich corrupt, with no evidence, and compared him to a criminal defendant when this was never a criminal matter," Rhoades said.

Rhodes says Wittich and his legal team don’t currently have plans to appeal the judge's ruling, but they are still considering their options.

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.