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Campbell recall shows huge campaign finance loophole

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

If the recall effort against Rep. Chad Campbell is unsuccessful, organizers may end up doing a lot more good than harm to the House minority leader and prospective gubernatorial candidate, thanks to a unique loophole in Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

Candidates are legally prohibited from coordinating with independent expenditure campaigns that assist them. But according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, that same prohibition doesn’t apply to committees that form to defend candidates from recall attempts.

And while legislators such as Campbell are bound by campaign contribution limits of $440, recall committees can accept unlimited funds. That means Campbell, D-Phoenix, can coordinate with the committee to raise as much money as possible.

Shortly after a group of Tea Party activists took out a recall petition against Campbell, supporters of his, including Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, formed a recall committee called Arizonans for Chad Campbell to oppose the effort. Campbell is open about coordinating with the group. He was part of the meeting where his supporters decided to form the anti-recall committee and is helping the group raise money.

As long as Campbell is coordinating with the recall committee, there are limits to its activities. Specifically, it cannot engage in independent expenditures that urge people to vote for Campbell.

But it could put up signs, run television ads and do a host of other things that would not only fight back against the recall effort, but boost Campbell’s public profile and name identification as he prepares for a possible run for governor in 2014.

For example, Campbell could accept $1 million from a single contributor and use the entire check to run television ads. The ad couldn’t tell people to vote for him, but it could urge people to oppose the recall or not sign the recall petitions that are being circulated.

“And it can be Chad saying that (in the ad), up until the day he files,” said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

State law doesn’t require Campbell to file a campaign committee for the recall until an actual recall election is called. Organizers have until July 10 to submit 11,567 valid signatures from voters in Campbell’s central Phoenix-based Legislative District 24.

“Say they raised a billion dollars and they only spent a million of it, they’re still going to be subject to that limit the day he declares that candidate committee,” Roberts said.

Once Campbell files an official campaign committee, he’ll have to cease working with the committee. But until then, Arizonans for Chad Campbell is fair game.

“Once they actually get me on the ballot, then you go straight into candidate mode. But until that time, yeah, it’s pretty vague,” Campbell said. “You’re not a candidate committee, so you’re not sending out pieces saying vote or vote against. But you’re fighting the recall. So anything in relationship to trying to stop the recall effort or oppose the recall effort, you can do it basically.”

Attorney Joe Kanefield, who served as elections director under then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer, said Arizona law is ambiguous on recall committees. But he said coordination laws likely couldn’t be applied to a recall target before organizers turned in their signatures because there technically is no election, and therefore no official candidate.

“An independent expenditure is by definition a committee that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate,” said Kanefield, of the firm Ballard Spahr. “But there’s no candidate. There’s an argument to be made, I suppose, that you are a candidate. But it would be hard pressed to enforce the law against someone who is a candidate for an election that hasn’t been called yet.”

Campbell said he spoke with several attorneys and the Secretary of State’s Office to determine exactly what he could do with the recall committee.

While the recall effort against Campbell prompted the formation of the committee, such an attempt to oust the minority leader wasn’t necessary. Roberts said any elected official can form a recall committee whether facing a recall or not. In the past, he said, Phoenix City Council members have formed such committees to defend themselves after hearing rumors of recall attempts.

“Let’s say Chad thinks that for the remainder of his time in the Legislature that he could be recalled at any time. They could leave that recall committee open, even though there’s no recall,” Roberts said. “A recall effort doesn’t necessarily have to exist for a recall committee to be opened on either side.”

Campbell wouldn’t say how much the committee has raised, and said it hasn’t decided exactly how it will spend the money.  Despite a prevalent school of thought among Arizona politicos that the recall has no chance, Campbell said he’s taking the threat seriously.

“We know that they’re out there getting signatures. We know that they’re paying for them,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to wait and see what they’re doing.”

Campbell has said he’s considering a run for governor, but hasn’t announced yet or formed a committee. In the meantime, his likely opponent in the Democratic primary, Fred DuVal, already opened an exploratory committee and is campaigning and raising money around the state. Some politicos believe that Campbell’s recall committee could help him get his name out until he officially jumps into the race.

Campbell said the committee is focused solely on the recall effort. But he acknowledged that it’s possible that the recall effort could help him.

“At the end of the day, anything can help you or hurt you in politics,” he said.

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