Ex-Laurel legislator settles corruption case, will pay fine

Kennedy

Former state Rep. Dan Kennedy, R-Laurel, has agreed to pay a $19, 599 fine in his political corruption case.

Former Montana House member Daniel Kennedy of Laurel has agreed to pay a $19,599 fine for accepting illegal campaign contributions during the Republican primary in 2010.

In a settlement reached last Thursday and posted Tuesday on the Montana commissioner of political practices’ website, Kennedy said “I did not know at the time but now understand” that the package of campaign services he received came from the National Right to Work organization.

The settlement was reached after a day-long mediation session between Kennedy and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl.

The case started in September 2010, when Debra Bonogofsky, Kennedy’s primary opponent in the House District 57 race, filed a complaint against him with Motl’s office. In her complaint, Bonogofsky said Kennedy “broke so many laws that he evidently never even read the rules.”

In the final days of the primary season, conservative political action groups attacked Bonogofsky in fliers, radio advertising and questionnaires, accusing her of being in favor of abortion, anti-business and a foe of gun rights. She lost to Kennedy by 249 votes.

The $19,599 that Kennedy agreed to pay by Sept. 26 was based on the findings in another corruption case, in which Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, was found guilty this spring. Jurors in that case ruled that $19,599 was the total value of the services Wittich illegally received from nonprofit political groups that campaigned on his behalf. Wittich is appealing that verdict.

Debra B

Debra Bonogofsky

Bonogofsky said Tuesday said the settlement was “kind of anticlimactic,” since the people who backed Kennedy in 2010 “got what they wanted that year.” Still, she said, “I’m very happy that they have got it resolved.”

She also praised Motl and private attorney Gene Jarussi of Billings, who represented Motl’s office, for working on the case for so many years. Kennedy could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bonogofsky said she probably could have asked to sit in on the mediation between Motl and Kennedy last Thursday, but she knew Kennedy’s attorney, James Brown, was going to be there, and she didn’t think she could stand to sit across from him.

Brown threatened to subpoena her when she filed her complaint, she said, and demanded to see all her communications with the state, but she prevailed in court against him and Brown was forced to pay her legal fees.

“That was even more satisfying” than news of last week’s settlement, she said.

Two other cases besides Wittich’s went to trial and were resolved there. Republican Joel Boniek was found guilty last year and fined $54,362. Wes Prouse, a Republican lawmaker from Shepherd was found guilty early this year and fined $59,066.

Scott Sales, a Republican senator from Bozeman, agreed to a settlement in 2014, and Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, signed a similar settlement in 2015.

Three other cases—against Rep. Pat Wagman, R-Livingston, former Republic candidate Ronald Murray of Belgrade, and Terry Bannan of Belgrade, a Republican who ran for the state House in 2010—are still unresolved.

“I’m certainly going to try to settle with them,” Motl said.

In his settlement affidavit, Kennedy said he had never run for office before 2010, and in that year he “received the services of a group of corporations and people led by a man named Christian LeFer,” whom he knew as the leader of a group called Western Tradition Partnership.

The services included “mailing list production, campaign training and advice, voter identification, letter writing, radio ads, letter production, website development, and document production.” Similar services were accepted by Wittich, and in his trial were referred to as “the works.”

Kennedy said he now understands that those services were provided by paid staff from National Right to Work, and because “these services were not allowed under Montana law as prohibited corporate contributions provided to a candidate … I should not have accepted them.”

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