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Bill targets Quelland campaign – at least symbolically

Former Rep. Doug Quelland (File photo)

A bill that would prevent candidates from filing to run for office if they owe excessive fines and fees for campaign law violations sailed through a Senate committee, but can’t go into effect in time to stop the one person who fits the description.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approved a strike-everything amendment to SB1137, which would prohibit elections officials from accepting nominating papers from anyone who owes at least $10,000 in campaign-related fines or fees.

Republican Sen. Linda Gray, the bill’s sponsor, wouldn’t comment on whether she filed the bill to target any particular individual. But the one, and possibly only, person in the state who would run afoul of the proposed law is former Rep. Doug Quelland, an independent candidate who is running against Gray’s hand-picked successor for her Senate seat.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission booted Quelland, then a Republican, from office in 2010 for not reporting a $15,000 contract he signed with a consultant. By entering into the contract, he exceeded the Clean Elections spending limit for publicly financed candidates.

“How long ago was it that he was supposed to pay the fine? He’s ignored those all this time. Now we’ve had to use taxpayer resources to try to collect those fines. What does that say? That you can ignore a penalty?” Gray said of Quelland.

Quelland currently owes $31,000 in unpaid fines for campaign finance violations, and the Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against him in December to force him to pay.

Gray, R-Glendale, wouldn’t say whether the bill was meant to specifically target Quelland. She said she’s trying to send a message that people should pay their fines if they want to run for office.

“I just think everyone who’s been found guilty and owes money for those fines should pay up before they’re able to run for office,” she said. “If you have violated the law, you’ve been found guilty, you have not paid your fee, it doesn’t make for a good representative when someone ignores the law.”

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said Quelland appears to be the only candidate in the state who owes at least $10,000 in campaign fines, though she said the office is trying to determine if there are others.

If the bill passes, it will highlight Quelland’s checkered electoral past and likely provide GOP Rep. Kimberly Yee, a Gray ally who is running for the District 20 Senate seat, fodder for anti-Quelland campaign mailers. But it won’t actually keep him off the ballot.

The bill doesn’t have an emergency clause, meaning it can’t go into effect until the general effective date for legislation, 90 days after the legislative session ends. That means the law won’t go onto the books until after the May 30 filing deadline for candidates.

Quelland said Gray appears to be trying to influence the upcoming election, though he wouldn’t comment directly on whether he believes she’s targeting him. He also noted that the law wouldn’t go into effect in time to keep him from filing to run against Yee, whom he said was “hand-picked years ago by Linda … to take Sen. Gray’s place.”

“It sounds like it targets individuals close to home,” Quelland said of the bill. “It seems like there’s a monkey afoot.”

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Yee to fill Quelland’s seat after he was kicked out of office. She defended the seat against him in the 2010 election.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Gray’s bill 7-0.

Though he voted for the bill, Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he had concerns about what effect it would have on a candidate who owed at least $10,000 but had made arrangements to pay the fines. Gallardo worked at the Maricopa County Elections Department for 14 years, and said such situations are common.

“We sat down with those candidates and worked out some kind of arrangement instead of having to come up with some kind of lump sum,” Gallardo said. “How would those types of agreements affect someone running for office?”

Gray said she is willing to consider an amendment exempting people who are earnestly trying to pay their fines.

Quelland wouldn’t say whether he’s working on any arrangements to pay his fines. He openly dared the Attorney General’s Office to take him to court, and wouldn’t say whether he planned to pay the $31,000.

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