June 21, 2016
Dear Fellow Montanans:
The Art Wittich campaign practice trial is now over. A jury found three campaign practice violations by Mr. Wittich and Judge Dayton has now assessed $84,152.28 in fines and costs against Mr. Wittich for these violations.
Judgment will be entered against Mr. Wittich and in favor of the State of Montana for the $84,152. The judgment amount will draw interest at 10% per year until paid. Payment could be delayed by the time taken to deal with an appeal but, assuming the judgment is sustained on any appeal, the $84,528 (plus interest) will eventually need to be paid to the State of Montana. The money, when paid, will go into the State of Montana general fund for use in meeting the State's general financial needs.
During the past three years this Office has issued 162 Decisions on 190 campaign practice complaints. About half of the Decisions found campaign practice violations and generally the legislator or other public official involved in the Complaint admitted their error, apologized to the people of Montana and paid a fine through an administrative agency agreement with this Office. Those agreements, including the fine amounts, are all posted on this Website and available for your review. You can review the documents by accessing any settlement under the "Complaints" and then "Campaign Decisions" portals listed on the above menu bar.
The 2010 Republican Primary election candidates who were involved with National Right to Work, including Mr. Wittich, acted differently. They denied everything, refused to produce campaign records and claimed a sweeping personal first amendment immunity from responsibility for their campaign actions. The COPP did not reach an administrative agency settlement agreement with these candidates, meaning enforcement moved to the next level through litigation in the court system. The Wittich jury verdict and judgment are now posted next to the Wittich administrative Decision, showing final enforcement resolution through court action. Please see the case numbered 14/026 on the Campaign Decision list for a review of the documents. The Decision, jury verdict and Court Order are all posted for your review.
Judge Dayton told the jury that its verdict in the Wittich trial would set an enforcement standard for campaign practice violation for years to come. It will and it should. The Wittich verdict and judgment came through an open court process with full due process afforded Mr. Wittich. Mr. Wittich is the first Montana public official in 75 years to be found by a jury to have violated Montana's campaign practice laws. The Wittich judgment is the largest amount of fines and costs assessed against a public official in the history of the COPP.
As a community Montana invested much effort in reaching the Wittich verdict and judgment. The time and effort of COPP staffers, the special attorney general (Gene Jarussi and John Heenan), a jury and a judge are each part of the Wittich verdict and judgment. In the end it is a community decision.