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Judge clears path for new contribution limits

moneyflageditArizona candidates will be able to accept contributions of up to $4,000 starting on Friday after a Maricopa County judge denied a request to block the new contribution limits from going into effect.

Superior Court Judge Mark Brain on Thursday issued a ruling denying an injunction against HB2593 that was sought by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and several other plaintiffs. The ruling does not decide the overall case against the new limits, but will allow them to go into effect while the lawsuit proceeds.

Brain wrote that HB2593 likely does not violate the Voter Protection Act, as the commission alleged. In fact, he suggested that the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which voters approved in the same year, might not actually be voter-protected because many of the voters who approved one measure may have voted against the other.

The judge said he saw no likelihood that anyone would suffer irreparable harm if candidates were allowed to start collecting contributions under the new limits, as the commission’s attorneys argued.

“Plaintiffs’ chances on the merits appear slim,” Brain wrote. “And in light of the First Amendment issues presented, the court cannot conclude at this juncture that irreparable harm will occur, nor that the balance of hardships or public interest favors the entry of a preliminary injunction.”

The CCEC argued in a Tuesday hearing that the new contribution limits violate the Voter Protection Act because it overrides part of the 1998 voter-approved law that created the state’s public campaign funding system. The Citizens Clean Elections Act reduces contribution limits for privately funded candidates by 20 percent, and opponents of HB2593 argue that the provision means the limits are voter-protected.

Attorneys for Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin argued that the limits aren’t voter-protected because the Citizens Clean Elections Act doesn’t actually affect the section of Arizona statute that sets contribution limits. As long as the limits that are set in law are reduced by 20 percent, the Legislature can set the contribution limits at whatever level it wants, they said.

HB2593 raises contribution limits by individuals to $5,000 per election cycle – which amounts to $4,000 after the 20-percent reduction – with half reserved for the primary election and the other half reserved for the general election, which is modeled on federal campaign finance laws. The current limits, which are increased every two years for inflation, are set at $912 per election cycle for statewide candidates and $440 for legislative candidates.

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