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{child_flags:editors_pick}New cache of WTP emails preview arguments in Wittich corruption trial

{child_byline} By Troy Carter Chronicle Staff Writer {/child_byline}

New court documents detail the argument Montana’s commissioner of political practices will make in the March 28 jury trial accusing Republican state Rep. Art Wittich of coordinating with a dark money attack group, a charge Wittich claims is baseless and politically motivated.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl sent the Lewis and Clark County District Court in Helena a second amended expert witness disclosure on Friday and provided reporters with a cache of thousands of emails between the National Right to Work Committee’s staff in Montana.

In his new filing, Motl said he will use a list of conservative candidates, including Wittich, who wanted a bevy of political services code-named “the works.” Motl alleges the list was produced by National Right to Work Committee staff and implemented in Montana by their staff member Christian Lefer.

Wittich said Tuesday that the list proves nothing.

“What level of evidence does he have that I was invited to anything or that I agreed to anything?” Wittich asked. “He’s picking up these disjointed tidbits, and he’s coming up with this grand theory. Nobody can even say who drafted that spreadsheet... And certainly no one can say that just because it said ‘wanted’ that the candidate was called and says, ‘Yes, I want that.’”

As commissioner, Motl used his powers to take Wittich into court after issuing a decision that alleged Wittich failed to report in-kind contributions from the nonprofit corporation Western Tradition Partnership during his 2010 campaign. WTP was operated in Montana by Lefer.

Motl declined to comment for this story. The Chronicle submitted a public records request for the cache of internal emails, including those he will use in court.

Among them is an email from Wittich to Lefer dated Jan. 8, 2010, with the subject line “my documents.”

“Christian, Here is my ‘long’ resume and draft announcement letter. I am still working on your Candidate profile. Let’s talk next week. Thanks, Art.”

Over the next two months, Wittich sent Lefer documents, photographs and bank account information used by Lefer’s staff to create Wittich’s campaign website. Wittich did report paying Lefer’s company, Direct Mail and Communications, for website work.

None of the emails released so far represent a clear connection between Wittich and third-party attack ads. But the emails do show Christian and Allison Lefer leading a small group of staff that also worked for and operated multiple nonprofit corporations with far-right wing agendas. In one email, Christian Lefer tells staff that they’re going to “go to town” on liberal Republicans.

“What does that have to do with me?” Wittich said. “Nobody investigates and does a business analysis of every one of their vendors. If this is the standard (Motl) needs to look at every print house in the state that has worked for a Democrat.”

Christian Lefer ran the consulting and creative side of the operations while his wife Allison (Andrews) Lefer oversaw production, according to an email Christian Lefer wrote. Simultaneously, Christian Lefer worked for the anti-union group National Right to Work Committee, taking orders from their government affairs director Dimitri Kesari, and founded the Montana Right to Work Committee, Western Tradition Partnership and others.

In 2008, “Christian Lefer wrote to selected conservative candidates announcing that he had ‘... developed a system of basic — but critical — campaign resources ...[nothing] like this has been done in Montana before,’” the commissioner wrote in the new filing.

Those services were part of a program the Lefers provided under the name “Smart Simple Campaigns,” which was provided to the candidates for free or at cost, according to their own literature.

Christian Lefer has not responded to the Chronicle’s requests for comment.

According to his court filing, Motl will testify that Wittich was provided at no charge voter information and a “walk list” developed by the Right to Work staff in March 2010.

“I got a mailing list and part of my payment to them was for data and a mailing list,” Wittich said. “If you go to any mail house, you don’t walk in and hand them a mailing list. That’s what’s included in the per price charge. Everyone acts like they have the secret sauce but it’s probably just secretary of state data.”

Montana law requires that third-party groups with paid staff disclose the value of their staff contributions to campaigns. These in-kind contributions are subject to the same limits as cash contributions.

“It will be my testimony, by opinion if necessary, that as a matter of fact Candidate Wittich interacted with or coordinated with WTP/RTW and its staffers in regard to the full range of the ‘works’ campaign he took, including by third party paid processional staff,” Motl said in court documents.

Wittich reiterated that he believes that Motl’s case is an attempt to smear him and other conservatives.

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Read related documents with this story at dailychronicle.com.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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