On Friday, the Gov jumped into the Rick Hill fundraising hootenanny. Schweitzer held a press conference in Great Falls, at which he expressed grave fear that Hill’s refusal to handover his ill-gotten $500,000 donation could trigger a succession of power crisis in Montana if Hill gets elected.
Why? The penalty for a major violation of Montana election law is mandatory removal from office.
The scofflaw Hill is now under a restraining order from a state judge not to spend the tainted loot, and she will make a final ruling on the issue on Monday. If she rules against him, then Schweitzer’s nightmare scenario is very much alive. The Montana code says that a candidate “must be removed from office” for breaking election law.
The GOP’s response was to point out that Bullock, too, has incurred an infraction of campaign law. But it appears that dog don’t hunt, because the GOP is pointing to a small violation, a few checks that were signed incorrectly. Trivial or minor violations–the type that every campaign commits incidentally in the course of doing business–do not subject an officeholder to the Ultimate Penalty.
True, I expect Bullock to beat Hill by more than a few thousand votes, so Schweitzer’s doomsday scenario will probably be mooted on election day.
Schweitzer’s theory is an interesting one, especially if you play it out. In the unlikely event of a Hill victory, Hill and his lieutenant Jon Sonju would both be removed from office (and maybe go the pokey, too) for having taken too big a donation ($500,000, when the law allows only $22,000). According to Montana law, in the event of a double vacancy the Senate President ascends to Governor and appoints a number 2.
The 2013 Senate President, alas, does not yet exist.
But here’s where it gets juicy. The betting now is that the Senate President might be none other than Jeff Essmann, the anti-pot crusader. If Essmann became governor via this scheme, then he’d have done so by getting only about two dozen votes, those of his fellow senators. It’d be the easiest, cheapest governor’s campaign in American history. He might even roll himself a fatty, just to celebrate the coup.
So Hill is playing with fire. He needs to give back the money, and that right soon.