Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is making one last legal effort to get the public to reimburse him for the expenses of his failed campaign.
Bennett is asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders to order state and county election officials to allow him to prove that the signatures they disqualified on his forms for public financing actually are legitimate. That would involve things like bringing in affidavits from the people involved.
But there’s a big problem with what Bennett wants. Tom Collins, the executive director of the Citizens Clean Election Commission, said even if Bennett can get such a court order and prove now he really had enough valid donations, there is no legal procedure to give him the money.
The fight is over $54,800. That’s the amount of money Bennett loaned to his ill-fated bid to defeat incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey in the Aug. 28 Republican primary.
Arizona law allow candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public dollars if they refuse to take private money and show sufficient support by gathering a set number of $5 donations.
Bennett had hoped to qualify for $839,704 in public financing for his run. But he failed to get the necessary 4,000 contributions by the deadline.
He complained that he came up short at least in part because the Secretary of State’s Office shut down the online portal for donations several hours early. And he managed to convince Judge Connie Contes to order the portal reopened for several hours.
Even with that, a legally required check of signatures on the paper forms submitted showed he still came up 120 short.
In the latest lawsuit he contends county officials erred and that at least 125 of the signatures they voided are valid. So now he wants Sanders to “analyze new evidence” that these were valid and issue an order that he be declared to have qualified for public funding.
There is no way for Bennett to get the entire $839,704, as the election is over. But he contends he’s entitled to use part of that to pay himself back.
Collins said even if Bennett wins this new lawsuit, it probably does not matter. Put simply, Collins said, it’s just too late.
He pointed out that Bennett lost his status as a “clean” candidate when he failed to submit qualifying donations by the deadline. That required Collins to reclassify him as a “traditional” candidate who takes private donations.
And there’s something else.
The lawsuit does not name the commission as a defendant. Collins said even if Sanders grants his request and even if the judge determines Bennett had enough qualifying signatures, none of that can force the commission to give him any money.