- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Latest on a trial against a Montana legislator accused of taking illegal campaign contributions from nonprofit corporate groups (all times local):

5:30 p.m.

A political operative hired by the National Right to Work Committee says state Rep. Art Wittich received a wide range of campaign services in 2010 because he was “on board” with the anti-union group.

Sarah Arnold says Right to Work’s goal was to elect candidates who would promote the group’s goals. She says Wittich and other Montana candidates who were selected received a comprehensive campaign package called “the works.”

Wittich is on trial for allegations that he took illegal in-kind campaign contributions from Right to Work and other organizations affiliated with the group. If the jury in the civil trial upholds the findings by Commissioner of Political Practices, a judge could remove Wittich from office.

Wittich denies any wrongdoing and says he paid for all the services he received.

3:15 p.m.

An attorney for the Montana commissioner of political practices says a state lawmaker received thousands of dollars’ worth of services from corporations that he never reported for his 2010 election campaign.

Special Attorney General Gene Jarussi told jurors Monday that Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman knew or had to have known what the groups affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee were doing on his behalf.

Wittich is on trial on allegations of coordinating with and accepting unreported contributions from corporations in violation of Montana campaign finance laws.

Wittich attorney Lucinda Luetkemeyer (LUTE’-ka-my-er) responded by telling jurors that Wittich hired a vendor and paid fair-market value for the services he received.

Luetkemeyer called the investigation into him by Commissioner Jonathan Motl a “government overreach horror story.”

1:10 p.m.

A jury has been selected in the trial of a Montana legislator accused of taking illegal campaign contributions from corporations during the 2010 elections.

The seven women and five men will hear testimony throughout the week about services Bozeman Rep. Art Wittich allegedly received for free or at cost from groups affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee.

Wittich says he didn’t do anything wrong and that Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl is bringing the case against him for partisan reasons.

Wittich is a Republican. Motl was appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and confirmed by the Republican-led Legislature last year.

Opening statements in the trial begin Monday afternoon.


10:20 a.m.

Jury selection is underway in the civil trial of a Bozeman legislator accused of accepting illegal contributions from conservative nonprofit corporations during his 2010 campaign.

Nearly 100 potential jurors filled the courtroom Monday morning in Lewis and Clark County District Court. Twelve jurors and two alternates will be chosen after questioning by District Judge Ray Dayton and the attorneys in the case.

Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl says Republican Rep. Art Wittich accepted unreported contributions from groups affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee. The contributions include campaign consulting, a direct voter mail program, website design and voter information.

Wittich denies the allegations and says Motl is prosecuting him and eight other Republican candidates for partisan reasons.

The trial is expected to last through Friday.


1:30 a.m.

A jury trial is set to begin for a Montana lawmaker accused of taking illegal contributions from dark money groups during his 2010 campaign.

A ruling against Rep. Art Wittich could mean the Bozeman Republican’s removal from office.

A precedent could be set for other open cases alleging that a network of nonprofit corporate groups and Republican candidates swapped the candidates’ allegiance for campaign assistance.

Wittich’s trial begins Monday. Its outcome could influence a federal lawsuit challenging Montana’s campaign contribution limits.

Attorneys for the state must prove that the contribution caps are preventing actual corruption or its appearance, and they have pointed to the case against Wittich and eight other candidates as that proof.

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