By John S. Adams, Montana Free Press
The Montana Free Press is a statewide, independent, nonprofit source for in-depth Montana news, information, and analysis. Visit montanafreepress.org for more information.
HELENA — Jurors heard from two former National Right to Work Committee staffers Tuesday as testimony resumed on day two of state Rep. Art Wittich’s campaign practice lawsuit.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl is suing the Bozeman Republican, alleging Wittich illegally benefited from coordinated corporate campaign contributions during his 2010 GOP primary race for the Montana Senate.
The two former Right to Work employees, Sarah Arnold and Andrew O’Neill, in 2010 worked for a sophisticated Livingston-based, conservative campaign organization run by Christian LeFer, who at that time was the Montana field operative for the National Right to Work Committee.
Motl’s attorney, Gene Jarussi, though his questioning attempted to make the case that Wittich received thousands of dollars worth of services from political corporations run by Right to Work. According to Arnold and O’Neill, Right-to-Work’s contributions included campaign websites, valuable databases containing voter information, letter-writing and printing services, opposition research, consulting, voter and candidate surveys, and other programs and services that were valued well above what Wittich paid.
Much of the testimony focused on emails and documents Arnold and O’Neill provided that showed the inner workings of the organization.
Arnold described her role as a high-level operative who worked with candidates selected by LeFer to provide the candidates with a bevy of campaign services.
O’Neill described himself as the “computer guy” for the operation who built websites, wrote computer code to query databases provided by the National Right to Work Committee, and worked on other computer-related projects.
Wittich’s attorney, Quentin Rhoades, tried to poke holes in the witnesses’ testimony by questioning their friendly nature with Motl’s legal team. Rhoades pointed out that both witnesses were there on a voluntary basis, yet both had refused or otherwise failed to talk to Wittich’s defense team prior to the trial.
Rhoades also challenged the witnesses to disclose how much they were being compensated by the state.
“How much were you paid for your testimony?” Rhoades asked Arnold during cross examination.
Arnold said the state agreed to pay her her normal hourly consulting rate of $75 per hour, which she said she was losing in lost work by traveling from Denver, Colorado, to testify in the case.
Arnold, a conservative political operative in Colorado, testified that she believes in the principles that LeFer’s operation claimed to stand for – including supporting policies of smaller government, pro-gun and anti-abortion – but that the tactics employed by LeFer’s organization were unethical.
Arnold said she volunteered to testify in the Wittich trial “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“I fully expect to face political retribution back in Colorado for testifying in this case,” Arnold said.
Rhoades also pointed out that both witnesses lacked any documentation or email evidence proving that Wittich himself either sought specific services or activities or had direct knowledge of Right to Work’s involvement in his campaign.
Rhoades argued that Wittich himself ran his campaign – not LeFer or his organization – and that Wittich also paid for and reported the services LeFer’s company provided.
Testimony wrapped up Tuesday with an announcement from Judge Ray Dayton that the trial, scheduled for five days, was on track. When the trial resumes Wednesday morning, the court expects to hear testimony from another former National Right to Work staffer from the 2010 Montana campaign, Nolan Green.
Green is the source of a document that allegedly indicates Wittich requested “the works” from LeFer’s organization, a term that describes the full-gamut of campaign-related services that certain GOP candidates received but allegedly did not pay for.
Motl is also expected to testify.