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Defeated gubernatorial candidate comes up short on contributions

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

Ken Bennett found himself out of the running when he was trounced by incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican primary in August.

Now he is finding himself out of the money.

The Secretary of State’s Office has concluded that Bennett came up short of the necessary $5 contributions needed to qualify for public funding for his ill-fated gubernatorial bid. And that’s even after a judge gave Bennett four additional hours in August to gather the necessary 4,000 contributions after he complained the online portion of the system had been improperly shut down early.

But Bennett told Capitol Media Services he’s not giving up just yet.

The former secretary of state said he is negotiating with election officials in three counties where a large number of his contributions were declared invalid, often because a signature on a paper form did not match each person’s voter registration file. Bennett said he hopes to convince each county official to accept other evidence, like an affidavit from the donor, that the contribution forms are, in fact, accurate.

Bennett said he already has such a commitment from Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

But the number of disputed signatures in Pima County is insufficient to get him up to the 4,000 he needs to get the cash from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. So now he is trying to get officials in Maricopa and Yavapai counties to go along.

Only thing is, even Bennett admits there is nothing in state law that specifically allows him to try to “rehabilitate” signatures that county officials found wanting.

On paper, the fight is over Bennett’s efforts to qualify for $839,704 which is available for gubernatorial candidates who gather sufficient $5 contributions and agree not to take other special interest money.

The election, however, is over. And Bennett got just 191,775 votes against 463,772 for Ducey who spent more than $1.7 million gathered from private contributions.

But even if Bennett now qualifies for public funding he cannot use the money as the election is over. What he instead wants is a chance to recoup the more than $50,000 he spent of his own cash on the race.

But here’s the thing: Even after the additional time to collect contributions, the signature-by-signature check of the forms found just 3,878 valid.

Bennett, however, contends that at least half of the signatures that county officials found bad are valid.

“I know that people signed these forms themselves,” Bennett said. “So if the signatures don’t match it’s because the person’s signature has changed over time.”

Take the case of Steve Blair, a Prescott city council member. That was one of the signatures rejected by Yavapai County election officials.

“Well, the guy probably registered when he was 18 years old,” Bennett said. He’s now 62.

“For whatever reason, I guess his signature he gave me a couple of months ago on a $5 form doesn’t match whatever they have on the county recorder’s file,” he continued. “But I personally witnessed him give me the form, sign the form, give me the $5. And there’s scores of those.”

All that presumes, however, that county officials will let him try to convince them that the signatures they rejected are, in fact, valid.

“There’s no specific part of the statute (on verifying Clean Elections signatures) that says if there’s a disqualification of a signature by a county recorder’s office the candidate can challenge that through this process,” Bennett said.

He said, though, there is precedent elsewhere in election procedure to go through an additional step if there is a question on a signature.

For example, Bennett said, sometimes a county will get a mail-in ballot where the signature on the outside of the envelope does not match the signature in the voter’s file. He said. what usually happens is an election worker will call the voter to determine if he or she was actually the person who sent in the ballot but perhaps there’s a reason the signatures do not match, like someone having had hand surgery.

And Bennett, who successfully sued the state in August to get additional time to collect signatures, said he’s prepared to go that route again.

“I’m 1 and 0,” he quipped, having won the first case while representing himself. “I’d rather not have to do a second one.”

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