- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Montana lawmaker who faces possible impeachment over allegations that his campaign took illegal corporate contributions said the law he is accused of breaking violates free-speech rights.

Republican Rep. Mike Miller of Helmville has filed a constitutional challenge to the state’s ban on corporate donations as he defends himself against charges of coordinating with a secretive conservative group in his 2010 campaign.

The law says a corporation may not make a contribution or expenditure that supports or opposes a candidate or political party. That law “reaches and regulates far more political speech than the legislature has a governmental interest in regulating by banning all corporate contributions to candidates,” Miller’s attorney, James Brown, wrote in the April 28 court filing.

Brown made similar arguments when he represented Western Tradition Partnership, the same organization with which Miller is accused of collaborating. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled last year that Western Tradition Partnership acted as a political committee - rather than the educational group it claimed to be - and must disclose the spending and donors it had been keeping secret.

Miller is one of two sitting legislators accused of taking illegal in-kind contributions and coordinating their 2010 legislative campaigns with Western Tradition Partnership, which is now called American Tradition Partnership.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl found that Miller, state Sen. Art Wittich and seven other Republican candidates were undercharged by Western Tradition Partnership’s affiliates for producing and distributing campaign letters and fliers, and that their campaigns coordinated the timing of attack letters sent by the group.

If a judge upholds Motl’s findings, Miller and Wittich could be removed from office and as candidates from the 2014 ballot.

Miller and Wittich have denied any wrongdoing.

Miller and Brown also said in their counterclaim to Motl’s findings that the state’s rules on who can be a campaign treasurer restrict free speech and the statute’s definition of a contribution is unconstitutionally vague.

Wittich is asking a judge to dismiss the case against him for lack of jurisdiction. Motl should have referred his case to the Gallatin County attorney, where the alleged violations happened, and not the Lewis and Clark County attorney, Wittich attorney Carie Wasserburger said in a May 2 filing.

An attorney for Motl responded that Montana law allows the case to be filed in either the district where the violation occurred or in Lewis and Clark County.