Judge freezes Hill’s $500K - Candidate told to stop spending donation

2012-10-25T01:45:00Z 2012-10-30T09:50:17Z Judge freezes Hill’s $500K - Candidate told to stop spending donationBy Charles S. Johnson of The Standard State Bureau Montana Standard

HELENA — A state district judge on Wednesday temporarily ordered Republican governor candidate Rick Hill to stop spending a disputed $500,000 donation and cancel all pending ads bought with this money, while she reviews the contribution’s legality.

District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena issued the restraining order late Wednesday and scheduled oral arguments for 9 a.m. Monday.

That’s just eight days before the close governor’s race between Bullock and Hill, with Libertarian Ron Vandevender running a distant third.

The attorney for Democratic governor candidate Steve Bullock, the state’s attorney general, sought the temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction shortly after a federal judge sent the case back to state courts where Bullock wanted it in the first place. Bullock filed the lawsuit against Hill in state court Oct. 18, but Hill’s lawyer had moved it to federal court.

Bullock has argued that the $500,000 donation received by Hill’s campaign illegally exceeds the $22,600 maximum aggregate limit that a political party can give to a candidate for governor.

Hill disagreed. He said he legally received the donation Oct. 4 during a six-day window when state contribution limits, including the aggregate one, were struck down by a federal judge and before they were reinstated by an appeals court.

But Bullock’s lawyer contended that the $22,600 aggregate limit for party donations applies for the entire campaign.

“The limits do not merely regulate one-time behavior,” Bullock’s lawyer, Jonathan McDonald, said in a filing. “They are ongoing; they are continuous; they are perpetual from the beginning to the end of a campaign.”

In her order, Seeley said Hill and his campaign “are temporarily restrained from spending, using or realizing any benefit from the campaign contributions in excess of the aggregate amounts permitted by (state law).”

She ordered that Hill and his campaign “to stop any agents, such as media buyers to whom these funds in whole or in part have been transferred, from proceeding to purchase any media time with these funds or otherwise benefit the Hill campaign through the use of the funds.”

“Insofar as advertisements have been purchased with these funds and are set to air immediately, they must be canceled,” Seeley ordered.

Hill’s campaign spent $621,181 with a Springfield, Va., advertising company to place ads since Oct. 8, including a $492,881 buy on Oct. 16, a campaign finance report Monday showed.

It was a double legal victory for Bullock and his campaign on Wednesday.

First, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen rejected Hill’s attorney attempt to move the lawsuit filed by Bullock against Hill to federal court. Christensen said the interpretation of the statute “is a matter of state law and the state court is better suited to engage in that exercise.”

Shortly thereafter, Bullock’s attorneys filed legal documents and Seeley issued the temporary restraining order.

“While Congressman Hill is attempting to put our elections up for sale, Steve’s fighting to protect their integrity,” Bullock’s campaign manager Kevin O’Brien said. “We’re happy that this case is back in state court and we’re confident that Congressman Hill will have to do what he should have done all along – return this illegal contribution.”

Hill, meanwhile, said, “We will fight this injustice. We will have the resources to win this campaign. We will seek justice through every avenue available. This election should be decided by the voters, not the courts….We will succeed when we are before an impartial tribunal.”

Hill’s campaign manager, Brock Lowrance, said the Hill campaign would be taking steps Wednesday night to comply with the order until it can present its case to the courts. He condemned Seeley’s order as “abusive” and unprecedented—issued without a hearing, briefs, arguments or notice.

At issue is the $500,000 donation that Hill received Oct. 4 from the Montana Republican Party. It after U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell struck down Montana’s donation limits on Oct 3 and before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the limits on Oct. 9.

Hill said Wednesday night he’s confident that Lovell’s decision was correct and the contribution legal.

The Montana Republican Party must file a campaign finance report Thursday to disclose the source or sources of the $500,000 donation.

The $500,000 donation allowed Hill to surpass Bullock in money raised for the entire campaign for the first time. It enabled Hill to take the fundraising lead with $1,909,596, compared to Bullock’s $1,739,182 through Oct. 17. Reports filed Monday showed Hill raised $733,300, counting the $500,000, from Sept. 6 through Oct. 17, while Bullock raised less than half that amount, $321,461.

An affidavit from O’Brien, Bullock’s campaign manager said by donating the $500,000 to Hill, the Republican Party was able to buy significantly more broadcast advertising than if the party bought the ads. O’Brien said third-party groups like political parties are now having to pay “eight, ten or even 12 times more than the ‘lowest unit rate’ that is charged to candidates.”

Bullock’s attorney, McDonald, raised the possibility of Montana having to conduct a special election if Hill were to win the Nov. 6 election and a court finds he violated state election laws.

“Plaintiffs (Bullock and running mate John Walsh) will be denied a fair and competitive election and the electorate will face the potential of having to both participate and pay for a special election if the results are voided per (state law) for the Hill campaign’s violation of (another state law),” McDonald said in a court filing.

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. zubie41
    Report Abuse
    zubie41 - October 25, 2012 10:24 am
    It's a simple proposition: Follow the law and exercise due process.
  2. GloryBee
    Report Abuse
    GloryBee - October 25, 2012 7:56 am
    As if Rick Hill is the ONLY political candidate to accept large donations. Notice the time line on Bullock and Bucy for crying and screaming foul on Hill? Hint…the money Bullock had received before considering any constitutionality! Bucy does nothing until the events heat up and hits the news media. Bullock is still our AG, he knows better. I had been for Bullock, but after this, my vote goes to Rick Hill/John Sonju/Tim Fox. You cannot claim ethical conduct while you are guilty of the same, brilliant. Let us not forget the cover-up of the intern fiasco Bullock made. The Montana Bar Association is there for a reason and yes Mr. Bullock, it is necessary for an intern to pass the Bar before handling cases of legality. Pam Bucy did not start returning funds until this hit the news media, then wants Fox and any of the others to do the same. Fox is in Bucy is out. Also, let us not forget the out-of-state funding Bullock has been receiving. Can you find all the campaign funding for the man who is screaming foul?

    There is a big difference between what is legal, what is ethical and what is immoral. Bullock seems to have conquered all three of them, only not in a positive backing for the people of Montana. WOW! Is there a lot of PENDING for Bullock! Remember the backing Bullock has given the Federal Government and their Constitutional Powers over State Decisions. Yet, he wants the State District Court to have the power over any Federal Courts because… This man has become more corrupt than I realized. At one time, I believed, trusted and respected Mr. Bullock, not anymore. I would prefer to vote for an individual who claims his actions to be justified from a court ruling which LEGALLY allowed him to proceed. Bullock should not be whimpering. I am glad this happened before I wasted my vote on someone who is this straying on what he wants to uphold.

    Formal complaints submitted to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices against Bullock for violations of Lobbying Laws, Campaign Finance, and Practice Laws.
    Reid v Dep’t of Justice and Bullock; Little v Bullock; Hart v Bullock; Tuininga v Bullock; Swope v Bullock;
    Olson v Bullock

  3. srvdmytym
    Report Abuse
    srvdmytym - October 25, 2012 5:36 am
    .....ain't that just like the democrats....i wonder what side of the fence this judge seely sits on....bet that ain't hard to figure. It's OK for george soros to pump millions into the the demorats campaign funds, it's OK for them to lie, cheats and slander.....man our country is in deep poooo!

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