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Campaign finance cleanup bill passes with emergency clause

The bizarre saga of a bill intended to fix some unintended consequences of last year’s campaign finance overhaul neared an end after the House overrode the sponsor’s attempt to strip out the emergency clause he had fought for all session.

The House gave its final approval to HB2665, which eliminates guidelines imposed by the Secretary of State’s Office in the wake of a 2013 bill that dramatically raised Arizona’s campaign contribution limits. Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s office said last year’s bill requires candidates to create separate committees for the primary and general elections, and mostly bars the transfer of money between them.

Despite pledges of bipartisan support, the bill hit an early snag in March when House Democrats voted against HB2665 en masse, removing the emergency clause that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, sought.

After the March House vote, Mesnard went to work trying to bring Democrats on board and reassemble a coalition that would give him the two-thirds vote he needed to enact the bill immediately upon the governor’s signature. The emergency clause was reattached in the Senate, and the chamber’s Democrats split, giving Mesnard his supermajority.

But by the time the bill went back to the House on April 23, Mesnard himself stood in opposition to the emergency clause. The Chandler Republican said the Arizona chapter of the AFL-CIO, an influential labor group, opposed the emergency clause because it didn’t think HB2665 rose to the level of an emergency. So in order to keep the bill from losing Democratic votes in the House, Mesnard agreed to remove the emergency clause himself.

Mesnard summed up the bill’s strange journey as the House began its debate on HB2665.

“This has been an interesting bill,” he said, to which House Speaker Andy Tobin responded, “No kidding.”

Mesnard told the Arizona Capitol Times it was important to him to get the emergency clause, but it was more important for the bill to be bipartisan.

“When I introduced this bill I made a point that this was not supposed to be a partisan bill. It was supposed to be things that aren’t controversial,” he said.

Prior to the vote, Mesnard said he would refuse to concur with the Senate’s changes. But he also said he’d heard that many Democrats now supported the bill, and might vote to override him, which is exactly what happened.

After Mesnard motioned to reject the Senate’s emergency clause and send HB2665 to conference committee, Democratic Rep. Mark Cardenas offered a substitute motion to accept the Senate version of the bill. That motion passed 52-5, with Mesnard as one of the votes of opposition.

“In the interest of trying to bridge the divide and trying to get as many people on board, I had a conversation with some folks that said they had an issue with the emergency clause, not the substance of the bill. I didn’t understand that perspective, but that was their perspective. So I agreed to take it to conference committee to remove the emergency clause,” Mesnard said on the House floor. “I’m trying to live up to my end of the bargain.”

Once the motion passed, Mesnard joined the rest of the chamber in voting for HB2665. Three Democrats were the only votes of opposition.

One lawmaker who voted against the bill, Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she wanted the bill to pass. But she said she wouldn’t vote for it because it would have been completely unnecessary had the Legislature not voted last year for a tenfold increase in campaign contribution limits.

“I think what this ultimately does is a disservice to the voters, because this puts the voice to those who have the money. So those who have the money get to speak the loudest in our political campaigns now,” Steele said. “I just thought I would remind us all that that’s why we needed this fixed in 2665 in the first place.”

The bill now awaits Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature or veto.

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