Court of Appeals blocks new contribution limits

Jeremy Duda//October 15, 2013

Court of Appeals blocks new contribution limits

Jeremy Duda//October 15, 2013

campaignfinancesThe Arizona Court of Appeals blocked Arizona’s new campaign contribution limits, reversing a trial judge’s ruling and putting a halt to a month of fundraising under the higher limits.

The court issued a preliminary injunction against HB2593 on Tuesday, about two hours after a three-judge panel finished hearing an appeal of a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling that allowed the new limits to take effect. The court did not explain its reasoning, saying only that Secretary of State Ken Bennett is barred from enforcing the new limits pending further order from the court.

Attorney Joe Kanefield, who represents the Citizens Clean Elections Commission in its challenge to the law, said he was thrilled with the decision.

“We have always believed that this law was unconstitutional. We’ve said that from day one. We said the while it was being debated in legislative proceedings,” said Kanefield, of the firm Ballard Spahr.

He argued in court that the Legislature violated the Voter Protection Act when it approved the new limits. Opponents have long claimed that because the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which has always been considered a voter-protected law, reduces the state’s contribution limits by 20 percent, the limits are subject to the Voter Protection Act.     It only allows the Legislature to amend voter-protected statutes with a three-fourths vote, and then only in a way that furthers the intent of the voters.

Attorney Mike Liburdi, who represents Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin in their defense of HB2593, argued that the drafters of the Clean Elections Act could have simply included new limits in the law, rather than reference them through another statute.

“If the Clean Elections folks intended to enshrine the 1998 contribution limits in law, why didn’t they do it in Section 941 as a hard-and-fast number?” the Snell and Wilmer attorney said in court, referencing the statute that reduces the contribution limits by 20 percent.

But the appellate judges appear to have sided with Kanefield, who said voters intended to regulate the limits as they existed in 1998, when the Clean Elections Act was passed.

Liburdi could not immediately be reached for comment. Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said he expected Liburdi and his clients to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

While both sides wait for a full opinion from the Court of Appeals, candidates are in fundraising limbo. The new limits went into effect on Sept. 13, and some candidates have spent the past month raising money well in excess of the old limits.

Bennett spokesman Matt Roberts said the Secretary of State’s Office is evaluating the situation and has not issued any guidance for candidates on whether they should cease raising money above the old limits or return checks they’ve already collected that violate the new limits.

“I think it would behoove candidates if they were having a fundraiser this week that they might want to think about what the opinion could look like. I wouldn’t necessarily hold off, but things could change depending on what the opinion says,” Roberts said. “Over the next couple of days we’ll have some further insight on that. But I think at the moment we’re going to hold off on providing instruction to candidates.”

HB2593 raised the individual contribution limit to $4,000. The previous limit was $440 for legislative candidates and $912 for statewide candidates. The bill also raised limits for political action committees, eliminated the aggregate limit that candidates can accept from PACs and eliminated the aggregate limit on the amount of money that an individual can contribute during an election cycle.

It is not clear how long it will take for the Court of Appeals to issue a full opinion in the case.

The opinion will provide further guidance on why the court enjoined the limits or whether parts of HB2593 that weren’t challenged in court will now go into effect.

The court’s decision overturned a September order by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain.  He said he doubted that the Legislature would be barred from raising the limits under the Voter Protection Act, and further ruled that the landmark 1998 proposition doesn’t apply to any ballot measures that were passed that year, despite wording its wording to the contrary.

Kanefield, Liburdi and the judges did not address that issue during Tuesday’s hearing.