Arizona Advocacy Network

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Wed Jul 17, 2013- Lawmakers were wrong to raise campaign-contribution limits by up to 10 times current caps without asking for voter approval, according to a special action filed Wednesday with the Arizona Supreme Court. 

The lawsuit seeks to block House Bill 2593 from taking effect on Sept. 13. The action was filed by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, Commissioner Louis Hoffman, the Arizona Advocacy Network and state Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson.

They argue the bill, approved mostly along party lines, violates the state’s Voter Protection Act, which bars lawmakers from changing voter-approved measures, such as the contribution limits set in the Clean Elections law. Any changes must be approved by voters. 

The only exception is if three-quarters of lawmakers vote for changes that would advance the cause of the voter-approved law — something HB 2593 did not do.

Lawmakers who favored the bill argued Arizona’s contribution limits are too low, a position supported by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Montgomery on Wednesday predicted the chances are slim that the case will get Supreme Court scrutiny because it’s hard to prove harm.

“We’ve had Clean Elections candidates who have beaten traditional candidates,” he said, noting the lower contribution limits for publicly financed candidates don’t appear to be a stumbling block to winning.

He also argued the current limits are so low that candidates running with privately raised money feel compelled to rely on independent expenditure committees to help boost their chances. However, it’s not clear that the higher limits would keep independent campaigns at bay; by law, they cannot coordinate with the candidate they are seeking to promote.

Opponents, in seeking relief from the Supreme Court, said quick action is needed before candidates get too deep into the 2014 campaign cycle. Otherwise, a lawsuit in the lower courts could cast uncertainty over contribution limits as the August 2014 primary nears.

Steele, a freshman lawmaker, said she is waiting for the case to be resolved before deciding whether to run using public funds, which she would prefer, or private money. 

If the bill becomes law, “this means I’ll have to spend more time fundraising, less time talking to voters,” she said.

The plaintiffs also argue that the high court needs to act because it involves constitutional questions about the Voter Protection Act, which has been Arizona law since late 1998.

The bill raises the amount an individual can contribute — or political-action committee can give — to $5,000 over the course of a primary- and general-election cycle. Currently, the limit is $440 for legislative races; $450 for local races, such as school board or city council; and $912 for statewide races, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. It also raises the cap for “super PACs” to $10,000 from $2,000.

Critics of the bill say they are appalled at the prospect of a school-board candidate being able to collect $5,000 per donor for what traditionally have been a low-key races.

The bill also counts primary donations separately from the general so the new limits are effectively doubled for candidates running in both races.