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Challenge to new contribution limits filed in Superior Court

Small gifts make big – and murky – difference in campaign finance transparency

Opponents of a law that dramatically raises Arizona’s campaign contribution limits filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court after the Arizona Supreme Court declined to take the case.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission, its chairman, the Arizona Advocacy Network and Rep. Victoria Steele allege that HB2593 violates the Arizona Constitution. They are asking the judge for an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect Sept. 13.

The plaintiffs argued that the judge should enjoin the provisions of HB2593 that raise the contribution limits and eliminate the aggregate on how much money an individual can give to campaigns during an election because they will do irreversible harm to the 2014 election cycle if they go into effect. Attorney Joe Kanefield, who is representing the CCEC, warned of chaos, confusion and an “ensuing donation frenzy” if the law is implemented.

If candidates accept contributions that are later deemed unconstitutional, the effects will be difficult to undo, the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. And many candidates may shun the Clean Elections system if they believe the new limits will make public funding inadequate for their races.

“Some candidates will likely jump at the chance to raise more money, exploiting the opportunity created by HB2593 and making expenditures with the increased contributions before the constitutional question can be resolved with finality. Given HB2593’s constitutional uncertainty, others may refuse to accept donations at the higher limits and may curb their expenditures accordingly,” Kanefield wrote.

Kanefield noted that 120 statewide and legislative candidates have already filed campaign or exploratory committees with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The heart of the lawsuit is a provision of the Clean Elections Act, passed by voters in 1998, which reduces the preexisting contribution limits and aggregate contribution limit by 20 percent. By changing the individual contribution limit and eliminating the aggregate limit without complying with the Voter Protection Act, the Legislature violated the state Constitution, Kanefield wrote.

The Voter Protection Act, also passed in 1998, prohibits the Legislature from repealing voter approved initiatives. Under the act, lawmakers can only amend voter-approved measures with a three-fourths vote, and only in a way that furthers the intent of the voters.

HB2593 raises contribution limits to candidates to $4,000 per election cycle, up from $440 for legislative candidates and $912 for statewide candidates. It also eliminates the aggregate cap of $6,390 that individuals can give to all candidates in the 2014 election cycle.

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