The Gazette’s editorial on Wednesday regarding Montana’s campaign contribution limits stated that “The Hill campaign asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and allow unlimited donations pending appeal, which the high court declined to do.” This statement about Rick Hill’s 2012 gubernatorial campaign is incorrect in several respects.
First, the Hill campaign never requested relief from the Supreme Court – the other plaintiffs did.
Second, rather than invalidate Montana’s contribution limits, the Hill campaign simply sought to enjoin the state from punishing Hill for accepting a $500,000 contribution from the Republican Governors Association. That contribution was legal under U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell’s October 2012 order and would have enabled the Hill campaign to catch up to Steve Bullock’s war chest. The campaign had a right to rely on what was then a valid federal court order. It was only after the Hill campaign received the RGA contribution, and spent much of it on advertising, that the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Judge Lovell’s order.
Third, the editorial suggests the Hill Campaign lost its court fight. In fact, it won. After the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Judge Lovell's order, a state judge ordered the Hill Campaign to pull its TV ads during the last week of the campaign, putting the campaign at a gross disadvantage. Additionally, Jonathan Motl, the former commissioner of political practices, demanded that the Hill campaign surrender the remainder of the RGA contribution to the state rather than return it to the GOP where it belonged. Motl threatened to impose $1.5 million in penalties if Hill refused.
The easy solution was to simply hand over the money to the state, which wouldn’t have cost Hill anything but would have cost the GOP plenty. Instead, Hill continued fighting in federal court and, by May 2016, proved his innocence, resulting in the court concluding that Motl’s grounds against Hill “appear shaky at best, and, more likely, non-existent.” Motl then dropped his prosecution of Hill, enabling Hill to return the campaign’s remaining funds back to the GOP.
Justice came too late to ensure a fair gubernatorial election in 2012. Nevertheless, Rick Hill now stands fully exonerated. The Gazette’s editorial leads readers to exactly the opposite conclusion. And it certainly doesn’t tell how Rick stood his ground, at considerable financial peril to himself, against a “nonpartisan” judge’s unlawful election interference and Motl’s subsequent blackmail in order to vindicate his party, his principles, and his reputation.