Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is blaming Secretary of State Michele Reagan for coming up short of the $5 donations he needs to qualify for public funding.
Bennett spokeswoman Christine Bauserman said the web site run by Reagan’s office for online contributions for Clean Elections funding went dark at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Only thing is, Bennett had until midnight to reach the 4,000 he needed to free up $839,704 for his bid to become the Republican nominee.
Officials in Reagan’s office are not disputing what happened. And they say that the site was restored — apparently several hours later — after being informed of the problem.
But spokesman Matt Roberts said the problem originates with how the site was first programmed years ago, when people were allowed to make their $5 donations online. He said it was designed to stop taking donations at 5 p.m. on deadline day.
And the person in charge of the office at that time was Ken Bennett, who left office at the end of 2014.
That explanation drew an angry response from Bauserman.
“So you’re telling me that over four years with all the advancements in technology and payment methods, that the system has not been re-looked at or redesigned?” she asked, saying that if that’s the case it amounts to “gross incompetence.”
“There wasn’t a reason to change anything,” Roberts responded. And he said that’s backed up by the fact that Bennett, who become secretary of state in 2009, did not do updates ahead of the 2012 or 2014 elections.
Bauserman said Bennett is weighing whether to seek judicial relief, whether in the form of reopening the site now, after the deadline, or some other method to give him his chance to qualify for that public funding.
Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said any fight that Bennett has is with Reagan’s office. But he suggested that, at least on a surface level, Bennett has a legitimate complaint about the site going down early.
“I don’t know of any statutory authority to shut it down at 5,” he said.
Less clear, Collins said, is whether Bennett can get any legal relief, whether from a court or even the commission.
“He would have to show, it seems to me, that he has some reasonable likelihood of collecting some actual qualifying contributions,” he said. “And he’d have to show that number is the number he’s short by.”
Bauserman declined to say how many $5 contributions Bennett has on hand, whether through the web site or people giving in person or by mail. Collins said it was his understanding that on Aug. 6, the last time he got an update from the Bennett campaign, there were about 3,100 donations.
And Collins said even if Bennett could show he could squeak in with barely more than the 4,000 needed, that’s not likely to be good enough.
He said a random sample of those are sent to county recorders to verify that the names and signatures match those of registered voters. And Collins said there always are some that are thrown out.
The fight leaves a related question: How quickly could Bennett get the money — and could he even make use of it given the election is Tuesday?