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Bennett loses court bid to get public financing for gubernatorial campaign

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett certifies the 2014 primary election canvass on Sept. 8, 2014. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett certifies the 2014 primary election canvass on Sept. 8, 2014. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A judge has rejected the latest bid by Ken Bennett to get public financing for his failed gubernatorial bid — or at least reimburse himself for the money he spent.

In a new ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders acknowledged that Bennett said he really did have enough valid signatures on $5 donation forms to qualify for $839,704 which was available for candidates in the Republican primary for governor earlier this year.

Bennett said that he fell short only because some county election officials incorrectly classified some of them as invalid. More to the point, he said he could prove that with things like affidavits from some of those disqualified donors to push him up over the top.

But Sanders said that really doesn’t matter.

The judge said there is nothing in Arizona law that provides an opportunity for a candidate to “rehabilitate” previously disqualified contribution slips. Put simply, Sanders said there is no legal remedy for him.

Bennett, however, told Capitol Media Services he is unlikely to leave it there and is weighing an appeal.

He conceded that there is, in fact, no law specifically authorizing what he hopes to accomplish, or even any legal precedent. But that, he said, does not mean what he wants is prohibited either.

Arizona law allows candidates for statewide and legislative office who agree not to take private donations to qualify for state dollars for their campaigns. Contenders also have to submit sufficient $5 contributions from backers to prove they have at least some modicum of support.

In the case of a gubernatorial candidate, that figure is 4,000.

Bennett, seeking to defeat incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican gubernatorial primary, did not reach that goal by the deadline. But he convinced Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes to give him more time after the online site for contributions was shut down several hours early.

That enabled him to reach the goal. But a random check of the contributions concluded some were invalid, leaving him short.

That resulted in this new lawsuit contending that the county officials had erred and asking that he be given a chance to prove that the signatures they disqualified are legitimate.

Sanders said there are procedures in state regulations for someone who has come up short to provide additional qualifying contribution slips. But that, she said, has to be by the deadline, which is long since passed.

“There does not appear to be a procedure for rehabilitating previously disqualified contribution slips and contributions,” the judge said. And that, said Sanders, leaves her legally powerless to give Bennett what he wants.

What’s at stake actually is far less than the $839,704. That’s because with the Aug. 28 primary long since over there is no way he could spend that now on his campaign.

But what Bennett wants is the $54,800 he loaned to his own campaign for the race.

Bennett told Capitol Media Services that what he wants — even if unprecedented — should be granted.

He pointed out that such a procedure already exists in cases when a signature on a mail-in early ballot does not match what county election officials have on file. Those voters are given a certain number of days, even after Election Day, to go to county offices to “rehabilitate” their signatures and offer explanations of why they do not match official records.

“There is no law,” he said. “We just do it because it’s the right thing to do and we don’t want to disenfranchise voters.”

The same, he said, should be true in this case, which is why Bennett said he is weighing whether to seek clarification by the state Court of Appeals.

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