By Paul Blumenthal, The Huffington Post
Politicians running for office in Arizona could soon be able to raise far more money from donors if a bill passed by the state legislature is signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer (R).
According to the Arizona Republic, the state Senate passed a bill Tuesday to increase campaign contribution limits from $488 to $5,000 for donors giving to legislative candidates. The contribution-limit boost would also allow donors to give $5,000 for a primary campaign and another $5,000 to a general election campaign, allowing for an overall donation of $10,000 to a single candidate.
The bill passed the state Senate on a party-line vote of 17-13, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats opposed. The bill previously passed the Arizona House by a one-vote margin.
Supporters of the contribution-limit increase say that candidates need more money to keep pace with outside groups freed from spending constraints by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, according to the Republic. The bill would also eliminate aggregate limits for PAC contributions to candidates.
Reported spending by outside groups on Arizona state elections jumped by more than 200 percent from 2010 to the 2012 elections. Overall, outside groups reported spending $7.6 million on independent expenditures in 2012, up from $3 million in 2010.
Opponents of the bill, including the campaign finance reform group Arizona Advocacy Network, claim that the legislation will simply provide for more big money in elections and will not stop the outside groups from spending money. They also claim that increasing the contribution limits will simply dilute the voice of the average Arizonan.
"How are working Arizonans to be heard or represented now when PACs can give $10000 to any candidate running for office –- school board, legislature, judge or governor?" Arizona Advocacy Network executive director Sam Wercinski said in a statement.
Wercinski told HuffPost that the bill's supporters outside of government are mostly a collection of business and conservative groups funded by donors who would like to give more money to politicians. He listed the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Goldwater Institute as the biggest backers of the bill.
"You don't see any citizens groups supporting this bill," Wercinski said. "It's just groups with big money."
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry did not respond to a request for comment on whether it is backing the bill.
The Arizona Advocacy Network has also stated that the bill is unconstitutional because it tampers with the voter-approved Clean Elections Act. Since the Clean Elections Act was enacted by referendum, instituting a public financing system for legislative elections in Arizona, any change made by the legislature requires a three-fourths majority vote to pass.
Bill supporters, including the chief sponsor Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler), told The Republic that the bill does not tamper with the Clean Elections Act, but is meant to "allow candidates to collect higher amounts from donors, whether they be individuals or committees, to keep pace with independent-expenditure committees."
Opponents are calling on Brewer to veto the bill.
UPDATE: Nick Dranias, constitutional policy director for the Goldwater Institute, said that his organization "mildly supported" the legislation, but that it was not a major factor in the bill's passage.
"It would be a mistake to say that this is a Goldwater bill," Dranias told HuffPost. "I think that there is a tremendous amount of support for this bill outside of Goldwater."
Dranias did note that the Goldwater Institute was generally supportive of any legislation that raises or eliminates contributions limits, saying, "We view contribution limits as not only a burden on freedom of association but also an indirect burden on freedom of speech."
CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly stated that any change to the Clean Elections Act requires a two-thirds majority to pass the legislature. Any change requires a three-fourths majority.
The original article can be viewed here.