The Arizona Legislature may have to go back to the drawing board if it wants voters in 2012 to kill the state's public-funded Clean Elections campaign-finance program.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink on Wednesday threw out a ballot measure the Legislature approved this year, saying it violated the requirement that constitutional amendments focus on a single subject.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1025 would have asked voters to ban the spending of public funds for candidates participating in the state's Clean Elections program, as well as in Tucson's public campaign-finance program. It also would have transferred any funds remaining in either of those programs to the state's general fund, even though Tucson's program is funded with city money.
Fink said that while most of the resolution covers issues that "share a common purpose," sweeping Tucson's money is a separate subject entirely.
"The principle implicated in depriving municipal taxpayers of money they had chosen to spend on campaign funding is very different from the principle that public funding of campaigns should be prohibited," Fink said in his ruling.
Clean Elections gives a lump sum of public funds to participating statewide and legislative candidates who get a required number of $5 donations and agree not to accept money from special-interest groups. It draws its money primarily from voluntary donations made on tax-return forms and a surcharge tacked onto civil, criminal and traffic fines.
The Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation and other voter-advocacy groups challenged the resolution in court.
"Once again, those who believe elections should be bought by the highest bidder over-reached in their attempt to eliminate Clean Elections, the reform that allows statewide and legislative candidates to run without ties to Big Money special interests," foundation executive director Linda Brown said via e-mail. "This is another example of an attempt by the Legislature to grab power from cities and towns."
The state and other defendants could appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Legislature also could consider a revised resolution next session and still have time to get it on the November 2012 ballot.
Goldwater Institute attorney Clint Bolick, who represented supporters of the resolution in court, said an appeal was unlikely.
"We won the most significant issue, which was whether a referendum could ban public campaign financing on a statewide basis. The funds diversion issue really is not very significant," Bolick said. "Given that we have lots of time with the Legislature to reshape the bill, that's probably the direction we'll go."