A Montana judge Wednesday halted a plan by former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill (R), currently his party’s nominee for Montana governor, to evade state campaign finance limits and take a $500,000 contribution from the state Republican Party. The contribution had been made in a brief six-day window when a federal judge’s ruling prohibited Montana from enforcing its limits on campaign contributions — a ruling now on hold, as a federal appeals court determined a challenge to his order was “likely to succeed.”
District Judge Kathy Seeley issued a restraining order, stopping Hill from spending any of the party’s donation and ordering him to cancel any pending ad buys he has made with those funds. She ordered a hearing to consider the case for Monday morning, just eight days before the election. A federal judge also rejected on Wednesday an attempt by the Hill campaign to move the case to federal court.
On October 3, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell threw out Montana’s campaign contribution limits, writing that they prevent candidates from “amassing the resources necessary for effective campaign advocacy.” On October 9, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed his ruling and later ordered that the state’s campaign finance rules be operative for this year’s election.
The Montana Republican Party opted to use the six-day gap to make a large transfer — $500,000 — from its coffers to Hill’s campiagn. The Hill campaign accepted the money and said it would keep and spend the cash, as it was a legal contribution at the time it was made. Democratic nominee and current Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock filed suit claiming the contribution was still illegal — well over the state’s $22,600 maximum aggregate limit. While the state party could have spent the money on ads of its own rather than contribute it to Hill, federal law allows candidates to buy them at a significantly lower rate.