September 16, 2016
Dear Fellow Montanans:
I am updating the most recent letter detailing several actions showing progress at the COPP.
First, the COPP settled its litigation with former legislator Dan Kennedy of Billings (COPP v. Kennedy XBDV-2014-234 1st Judicial District, Lewis and Clark County). Mr. Kennedy was part of the group of 2010 Republican primary election candidates who received unreported and undisclosed professional services from people paid by corporations affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee. Art Wittich of Bozeman was also part of this 2010 group of candidates and five months ago a 1st Judicial District jury determined that Mr. Wittich had improperly accepted $19,599 of value from such paid personal services. While Mr. Wittich's total fines and costs exceeded $80,000, the COPP and Mr. Kennedy agreed to settle for the $19,599 amount found by the jury. The settlement agreement is posted for your review on the COPP website under 2014 COPP campaign decisions at number 13/022. Mr. Kennedy has now paid the fine in full and the funds were deposited in the general fund of the State of Montana.
Second, on August 23, by memorandum opinion, the Montana Supreme Court confirmed the general right of the COPP to enter into a professional services contract for expert witness testimony. The Court did so when it sustained the dismissal by District Judge Mike Menahan of a "false claims" lawsuit brought against the COPP by Livingston resident, and former legislator, Dan Skattum. The Skattum claim was represented by attorneys from Art Wittich's law firm.
Third, on September 13, 2016, the Montana Supreme Court issued its Order dismissing the challenge to time and manner in which the COPP and the Secretary of State certify candidates for the ballot: Essmann v. COPP No. OP 16-0522. As was the case with the Skattum challenge, the Court is saying that the COPP has a job to do and that we should keep on doing it.
Scott Cook, a 2013 MSU graduate in political science, joins the COPP staff as our second compliance specialist. We like him. Elyssa, Kym, and Noah are working hard to get him ready for the next major campaign filing date (October 4 or 35 days pre-general) with the COPP.
We issued three campaign finance Decisions this week, moving to clear the complaint docket so we can promptly handle complaints filed during the last few weeks before the 2016 elections. Please continue to call or email us with any concerns or comments.