Montana State District Judge Kathy Seeley heard oral arguments on Monday concerning a $500,000 contribution from the Montana Republican Party to Rick Hill's campaign for Governor. She refused to issue an immediate ruling, causing the case to drag on for days and limiting Hill’s ability to communicate with voters in the campaign’s critical final days.
Lost in the legal tussle is the fact that Judge Seeley is a long-time donor to the Democrat party, and that she worked with Hill's opponent, Attorney General Scott Bullock. Previously, Seeley had recused herself from cases involving Bullock. Of course, at a critical point in Bullock's campaign for Governor, she declined to recuse herself and ruled against his GOP opponent.
At issue: Hill had received the contribution on Oct. 4 after a federal judge ruled the state’s $22,600 limit on aggregated contributions from a political party was unconstitutional. Six days later, an appeals court reinstated the limits. Seeley issued a restraining order on Oct. 24 in response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and state Attorney General and former co-worker of Seeley) Steve Bullock to block Hill from spending any of the $500,000 and directing the campaign to cancel advertising as she reviews the legality of the contribution.
Seeley’s ruling directed the Hill campaign to “stop any agents, such as media buyers to whom these funds in whole or in part have been transferred, from proceeding to purchase any media time with these funds or otherwise benefit the Hill campaign through the use of the funds.”
She also ruled the GOP campaign was “temporarily restrained from spending, using or realizing any benefit from the campaign contributions in excess of the aggregate amounts permitted by (state law). Insofar as advertisements have been purchased with these funds and are set to air immediately, they must be canceled.”
A Partisan Trap: Case Judges Support Democrats
Seeley, who ruled against the GOP candidate and issued the temporary restraining order blocking the campaign from spending money, is a long-time donor to Democrat campaigns. See here, here, here and here. Moreover, her husband was a donor to Bullock's campaign for Attorney General four years ago.
Seeley, elected as a district Judge in 2008, is also a former co-worker of Steve Bullock and worked 23 years as an assistant Montana attorney general. He worked, during her tenure, as the executive assistant attorney general, and later acting chief deputy, from 1997-2001.
That’s not all. Federal District Court judge Dana Christiansen, an Obama appointee with thousands of dollars of donations to Montana Democrats, is the judge who sent the case to Seeley's court. Despite her 100-percent partisan contribution record that stretches back to 1992 and includes gubernatorial candidates, Seeley failed to recuse herself from the Hill case. Of course, Christiansen also failed to recuse himself despite two direct contributions to Steve Bullock and his overwhelmingly partisan donation record.
State Leader calls Judge Seeley’s action “politically motivated”
“Billings state senator Jeff Essman, the Senate majority leader, claims the district judge who ordered Hill's campaign not to spend the money and to pull the TV ads purchased with those dollars, is politically motivated” – KTVQ, Billings, 9/25/12
The Real Culprit? Bullock Was Disciplined for Campaign Violations
Ironically, Steve Bullock, who professes to be a campaign finance reformer, is the only candidate in the governor’s race with a history of campaign ethics complaints and record of violations.
Bullock, who already had five complaints filed against him, has three cases pending before the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices. The commissioner concluded Oct. 25 that Bullock’s campaign had violated state campaign rules by allowing unauthorized individuals to sign more than $15,400 in campaign checks.
Whatever the merits of the Democrats' lawsuit, and there are very few, Seeley should have recused herself from the case. She is not a neutral arbiter of the law here. Why didn't she recuse herself from this case, as she has done in the past? How could she rule in a case involving a candidate whom her husband supported financially?
I get that Montana Democrats think the rules apply differently to them. But, even this seems a bit of a stretch.
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