Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) The Secretary of State’s office spent about $1.3 million on legal fees, far surpassing its $100,000 budget, defending election laws being challenged in courts in the state.

According to a report to the Revenue Interim Committee last week, the legislature budgeted $100,000 to the office for election litigation. The additional money was taken from the office’s enterprise fund, which collects fees from charging businesses for services like issuing trademarks or filing charges for candidates.

Legislative Fiscal Division Analyst Kris Wilkinson said of the $5.7 million in operating expenses out of the enterprise fund for Fiscal Year 2022, $1.3 million was spent on consulting and professional services, which largely was related to election lawsuits.

Wilkinson said the $1.3 million was spent on top of the $100,000 from the general fund, which the office had spent by February of this year.

Elections laws passed during the 2021 legislative session have been tied up in court, with a two-week long trial held last month in a case that is still unfolding as legal fees mount.

Seven attorneys from the law firm Crowley Fleck PLLP, from offices around the state, were listed as part of the counsel of record for the Secretary of State’s office in the latest filing from the Montana Supreme Court.

The Attorney General Austin Knudsen, as well as two lawyers from his office and Chief Legal Counsel for the Secretary of State were also listed.

This week, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to temporarily enjoin two election laws related to same-day voter registration and using university identification to vote, as the case continues in the Yellowstone County District Court.

Prior to trial, Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen appealed the temporary injunction of the laws that changed Election Day voting and will likely appeal this latest ruling.