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Bennett claims to have enough contributions to qualify for public funds

Ken Bennett said Tuesday he finally has gotten the 4,000 contributions he needs to qualify for $839,704 in public funds for his campaign for governor.

Only thing is, it comes too late for him to spend it in a way to actually have influenced his bid to defeat incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey in the Republican primary.

And that even assumes he actually gets any money.

First, county recorders will have to review a random sample of the donations to ensure they come from registered voters. And even if Bennett survives that, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission has to resolve two complaints against him before any cash can be disbursed.

On Tuesday, Bennett delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office what he said were about 4,130 donations of $5 each. That came after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes on Monday gave him four more hours to collect online donations after the web site for contributions was shut down at 5 p.m. — before the midnight deadline — on Aug. 21.

That additional time, said Bennett, was enough for him to find “about 200” new donors — and enough to get to that 4,000 minimum plus a small cushion should some ultimately be disqualified.

If he does get the money — and that remains unclear — he’s going to have to immediately give most of it back.

That’s because the system of public financing requires candidates to use the money they get for the campaign they’re facing. And the primary ended Tuesday evening.

So what’s the point?

“The point is that we have spent money that I’ve loaned the campaign,” Bennett said, about $43,000. “We can be reimbursed out of the Clean Elections funds for those funds we expended in the campaign already.”

That still leaves the pending complaints.

One is based on a state law which says that if the $5 donations are actively solicited that must be done “by a person who is not employed or retained by the candidate and who is not compensated to collect contributions by the candidate or on behalf of the candidate.” The charge is that campaign manager Christine Bauserman, paid $17,500 during a two-month period, was actively seeking out donors online and in person so that Bennett could get the necessary donations.

Bennett told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday that the complaint is based on a flawed assumption of what Bauserman was doing.

“My campaign manager was not compensated solely for collecting $5 contributions,” he said.

He called it “a nuisance complaint propped up by the Ducey campaign to just make us spend time fighting against nuisances they create.”

The other complaint goes to a thornier question of whether Bennett, as a publicly funded candidate, actually was allowed to spend his own money on the campaign.

The law limits personal funds to $1,000. But even Tom Collins, the commission’s executive director, said the question of loans may be a gray.

Both complaints were filed by Tyler Montague.

He acknowledged to Capitol Media Services that, as a Republican, he prefers Ducey to Bennett, accusing the latter of running a “clownish” campaign with his arguments on why he would never appoint Cindy McCain to replace her husband. But Montague said neither was filed at the behest of or in coordination with the governor’s reelection campaign.

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