Rick Hill’s governor’s campaign asked a federal court Thursday to stop a state judge from preventing him from spending a disputed $500,000 donation from the Montana Republican Party.
At the same time, Hill’s staff called TV stations Wednesday night and Thursday to cancel ads previously bought with some of $500,000, but not yet aired.
“For all intents and purposes right now, we’re dark now on television,” said Brock Lowrance, Hill’s campaign manager.
He said the campaign is pursing the federal legal case in an attempt to overturn the order from state District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena, while still complying with her order.
On Wednesday, Seeley issued the order, granted at the request of Hill’s Democratic opponent, Steve Bullock, to temporarily stop Hill’s campaign from spending the $500,000 until she decides its legality. A hearing is set for Monday.
“Rick’s not stopping campaigning,” Lowrance said. “This is matter of just having to switch strategy right now.”
The Nov. 6 election is less than two weeks away. Hill will be taking part in the final two gubernatorial debates in Great Falls on Friday and in Bozeman Saturday.
Documents filed Thursday disclosed that the Republican Governors Association was the source of the money the state GOP gave to Hill.
Meanwhile, Hill said Friday he intended to loan $100,000 of his own money to his campaign to begin buying ads again as he awaits the court decisions.
Hill’s attorney, Matthew Monforton of Bozeman, filed legal papers Thursday asking U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena to temporarily halt the order issued by Seeley.
“Her order has effectively shut down the Hill campaign with less than two weeks left before Election Day because of actions, when taken by the campaign were perfectly legal, a gross violation of due process,” Monforton wrote.
It was Lovell who issued the order Oct. 3 that struck down’s Montana campaign donations as unconstitutional. On Oct. 9, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Lovell’s decision and reinstated the limits.
Hill received the $500,000 on Oct. 4 from the state Republican Party.
Bullock has called it an illegal donation because state law allows an aggregate donation of $22,600 from a political party to a candidate for governor for an entire campaign.
Hill has defended the donation, saying he received it during the six-day window when Montana had no campaign donation limits.
Bullock’s spokeswoman Kate Downen characterized the legal dispute as “about a difference in character and integrity.”
“Congressman Hill will do anything to get elected -- including breaking Montana law by accepting half-a-million million dollars of illegal, D.C. money -- while Steve has fought for years to make sure our elections can't be bought,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Montana Republican Party criticized Judge Seeley for not stepping down from this case.
It said before she was elected a judge, Seeley made a total of $230 in political donations to five Democratic candidates over the years, $100 total to two nonpartisan judicial candidates and none to Republicans. It cited National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan group based in Helena.
Seeley previously worked in the Montana attorney general’s office. Most of the partisan donations were to people who worked in the office or candidates for attorney general.