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The Montana Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a decision finding former state legislator Art Wittich liable for violating the state’s campaign finance laws.

Jonathan Motl, then the commissioner of political practices, filed a lawsuit against Wittich in 2014, alleging Wittich had violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 primary campaign for Senate District 35.

The District Court jury in Anaconda that heard the case concluded that Wittich had violated campaign laws by failing to maintain and preserve records of his campaign contributions and expenditures, by accepting or receiving corporate contributions, and by failing to report all contributions.

Wittich appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court. He claimed that Motl did not follow the law in bringing the case, that the District Court judge made errors that deprived him of a fair trial and that the judgment against him was unlawful.

The Supreme Court in its ruling this week dismissed each of those arguments. It concluded the commissioner properly investigated the case, affirmed the District Court’s trial rulings and that it acted within its authority when it fined Wittich $68,232.58.

Wittich told the Chronicle on Wednesday that he was disappointed with the decision and said it sets a precedent in Montana of laws being enforced against Republican reformers and ignored against liberal Democrats.

"It's dangerous to speak truth to power, and the power in Montana is the government union establishment," Wittich said.

"This is a bogus case brought by a liberal hack," Wittich said.

He said he was still deciding his next steps in the case.

Jeff Mangan succeeded Motl as the state's commissioner of political practices and released a statement Wednesday praising the high court’s decision.

“Thanks to the thoughtful persistence of Montana citizens Debra Bonogofsky, John Esp and Karolin Rockvoy, Montana campaign finance and disclosure laws remain a strong powerful ally for openness and transparency in Montana’s election process,” wrote Mangan, citing the three people who initially brought the complaints against Wittich.

The commissioner’s office, he said, is looking forward to continuing to serve Montana citizens with the same passion and integrity exhibited by former Commissioner Motl.

Among other issues, Wittich maintained in his appeal that the commissioner had failed to direct the case to the proper county attorney. The case was directed to the Lewis and Clark County attorney, but Wittich argued that it should have been directed to the Gallatin County attorney.

The Supreme Court in its ruling determined that some of the campaign violations were alleged to have happened in Lewis and Clark County. Therefore, the high court said, the case was handled properly.

Wittich also argued that Motl should not have been included as an expert witness for campaign finance laws and that C.B. Pearson, an expert witness for the commissioner, was not qualified to testify about the costs associated with the printings handed out by his campaign. The high court ruled that Pearson had more than 30 years experience in Montana political campaigns and that Wittich should have raised those concerns during his cross examinations.

Wittich also argued in the appeal that the denial of his motion for a new trial was an abuse of discretion by the trial judge, but justices rejected that argument.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at


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