Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

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The state’s higher campaign-contribution limits are on ice, at least for now, according to a preliminary injunction issued late Tuesday by the state Court of Appeals.

The injunction came down less than two hours after the court heard arguments on the limits, which raise the caps on state and local races 10-fold for the combined primary- and general-election cycles.

The injunction comes as candidates are in the midst of fundraising for the 2014 campaign cycle. It prevents the Arizona secretary of state “from enforcing or implementing House Bill 2593 pending further order of this court.”

The court’s decision complicates campaigns, in which some candidates have been raising money with the new, higher limits in place. Those limits took effect Sept.13.

“You’re kidding!” said a disbelieving Rep. Justin Pierce, 
R-Mesa, who had just announced his campaign for secretary of state and who had a major fundraiser scheduled for tonight.

“You’ve caught me in a moment of ‘Holy crap, now what?’” he said.

Mike Liburdi, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of the Legislature’s leaders, said the injunction leaves candidates and contributors without clear direction.

“This Court of Appeals, without any guidance whatsoever, has upended the entire campaign-finance system in Arizona,” he said.

The court did not provide any reasoning for its ruling, he said. And that makes it likely that the state will turn to the Arizona Supreme Court for review — the same court that earlier this year would not take up the complaint from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and other plaintiffs.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it will advise any candidate who asks that it would be prudent to adhere to the old contribution limits.

“I don’t think candidates can go wrong using the old limits,” Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Matt Roberts said.

But until Secretary of State Ken Bennett can review the court’s opinion, the office won’t issue any broad directive to the dozens of candidates for state and local offices, Roberts said.

That opinion has yet to arrive.

The injunction doesn’t directly affect candidates running with the state’s public campaign-finance law.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission filed suit in July, challenging the higher contribution limits. The commission, along with other plaintiffs, argued that because the increases are tied to the limits set in Arizona’s public campaign-finance system, which voters created, any change in the private limits is subject to the state’s Voter Protection Act.

That act says no changes can be make to voter-passed measures without either another statewide vote of approval or the OK of three-quarters of the Legislature. Neither of those things happened when the Legislature approved HB 2593 last spring.

The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

The bill raises the amount an individual can contribute, or a 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 a school board or city council; and $912 for statewide races, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

It also raises the cap for super PACs to $10,000 from $2,000. And it removes the limit on the total amount of money an individual can give to candidates and campaigns, while also erasing the cap on the aggregate amount of money a candidate can accept from all political committees, with the exception of contributions from political parties.