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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Republican lawmakers are poised to wildly increase the state's campaign finance limits in an effort that would allow an unprecedented flood of private dollars into local elections and undermine the state's public campaign financing system.
Republicans said current limits are unconstitutionally low, especially given the growing influence of outside political advertisements in national and state campaigns made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that erased years of campaign finance law.
But Democrats argued the measure would give wealthy donors and political groups more influence in campaigns while effectively dismantling the state's public financing options approved by voters. The bill would not increase funding for candidates running under the state's public campaign financing option.
"The only thing we are doing is adding more money by special interests to influence our elections," said Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo, of Phoenix.
The Arizona Senate passed in a 17-13 vote Tuesday the bill seeking to increase the amount of money individuals and political committees may give to a privately funded candidate. The House approved the legislation in a 32-23 vote in February. It would become law if passed by Republican. Gov. Jan Brewer.
House Bill 2593 would allow statewide, legislative or other candidates to accept $2,500 from individual donors and $5,000 from some political committees. The bill would allow candidates to collect the maximum contribution twice — during the primary and the general election.
"It would put the candidates themselves in charge," said Republican Sen. John McComish, of Phoenix.
Arizona currently caps individual contributions at $488 per legislative candidate through the primary and general elections. The Citizens Clean Election Act reduces campaign contribution limits to 80 percent of the mandated limits.
Voters created Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission in 1998. It uses surcharges on criminal fines and civil penalties to fund candidates for state office. Participants qualify for public funding by gathering $5 contributions from eligible voters and agreeing to comply with spending and contribution limits.
Todd Lang, executive director of Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the proposed law will discourage incumbents and challengers alike from running with public financing because of the threat of being outspent.
"Clearly, the voters are going to have fewer choices," Lang said.