Arizona Republic: Judges Aren't Stupid and Neither Were Voters

Opinion by Sam Wercinski

Wercinski: Intent clear with Clean Elections, Voter Protection acts

Was Robert Robb's Nov. 15 column, “Contribution limits: Read the law, not the tea leaves,” intended to be dumb or just dumbfounding?

Yes, a judge applies the law to the facts and circumstances in a case — assuming the law is constitutional. Yes, legislative enactments are presumed (by lawmakers) to be constitutional, although in Arizona there’s a history of that not being the case.Laws and the words that make them are subject to interpretation, which is why Arizonans value fair and impartial courts.

When citizens passed the Voter Protection Act and Clean Elections Act in 1998, their intentions were clear. In considering the legal challenge to the Legislature’s attempt to blow the caps off of fundraising limits with House Bill 2593, the Court of Appeals simply affirmed this intent.

The Voter Protection Act prevents lawmakers from undermining voter-approved laws. The Clean Elections Act, a voter-approved law, took the control of contribution limits away from lawmakers and gave it to the voters.

In addition to the corruption that plagued our state government in the '80s and '90s, Arizonans had other clear intentions for passing both acts. Case in point: In 1986, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 200, a citizens’ initiative that created reasonable campaign finance laws and anti-corruption measures – including mandatory removal from office of any politician who violated this law.

Unsurprisingly, with no Voter Protection Act in place, lawmakers quickly gutted the anti-corruption provisions, raised contribution amounts and disregarded the will of voters.

Today, the Clean Elections Act requires the voter-approved contribution amounts to be adjusted by the secretary of state for inflation and allows modifying voter-set limits by simply following the rules voters created in the act itself.

The current court battle would never have occurred if lawyers for legislative leaders had provided sound advice when they reviewed the constitutionality of House Bill 2593. Lawmakers also had the opportunity to work with Arizona Advocacy Network and other government accountability groups to address legislators’ goals versus the will of voters to fight political corruption through the Clean Elections Act.

The justices, far from "stupid," don’t need to look into murky tea leaves to understand the intent of voters who passed the Voter Protection Act and Clean Elections Act. They have current and historical facts to rely on.

Those facts support the Court of Appeal’s decision that HB 2593 is likely to be ruled unconstitutional, and the current injunction prohibiting an illegal increase in contribution limits should remain in place until the case can be fully heard on the merits.

In the meantime, Arizona voters and candidates would be better served if proposed legislative solutions were acted upon now so legislation could be passed in early January. That is far more sensible than litigating this case well into the spring.

Mr. Robb can throw around big words like “psephologist” all he wants, but he can’t escape a simple fact: Arizona voters intend to retain control of campaign-finance limits, whether through new citizen initiatives, legislative compromise or the courts – no tea leaves needed.

Sam Wercinski is executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, an organization that focuses on electoral-justice and voter-participation issues.

The entire article can be viewed here.