GOP lawmaker pays fine, agrees to not run for office in settlement of campaign finance lawsuit

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HELENA, Montana — Although he maintains he did nothing wrong, a Republican state lawmaker has agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and not run for public office for four years to settle a state lawsuit that accuses him of breaking campaign finance laws.

The agreement with Rep. Mike Miller of Helmville and his wife, Joanne Miller, was filed on Friday in District Court in Helena.

"I maintain now as I have maintained throughout the legal process instigated against me by (Commissioner of Political Practices) Jon Motl that I engaged in no wrongdoing during my 2010 primary election," Miller said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Joanne Miller, whose involvement with her husband's campaign included writing a letter known as a "wife letter" to female voters, is not responsible for any fines or wrongdoing related to the case, according to court documents.

Motl filed a civil action against Miller and eight other Republican legislative candidates stemming from the 2010 primary election campaign. Motl said the candidates coordinated with and took illegal corporate contributions from the conservative group Western Tradition Partnership through a Livingston company called Direct Mail.

In court documents, Motl said Miller's reporting, disclosure and source of funds used to pay for campaign letters did not meet the requirements of Montana's campaign practice laws. Motl asserts Miller did not pay full price for sending out campaign mailers and that the unpaid services provided by Direct Mail and Western Traditional Partnership together "became an unlawful corporate contribution" to Miller's primary election campaign.

Motl declined to comment on Miller's case on Monday, saying he didn't think it appropriate while the Legislature is in session.

Miller said he completely disagrees with Motl's accusations, but he settled because he didn't want to continue to rack up attorney's fees. "While I am confident I would be found innocent at trial, there comes a time when one must face the reality of the unlimited financial power of the state when it prosecutes one of its citizens," he said in the statement.

Miller said he'll finish his term in the House of Representatives, which ends in January 2017.

Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman is the only other currently elected official among the nine whose case is still pending. A Helena judge has set a February 2016 trial date in his case. Sen. Scott Sales of Bozeman agreed to pay a $500 fine in settling his lawsuit in December. The cases against the other six former candidates are proceeding, Motl said.

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