Bennett takes another shot at recouping money for failed gubernatorial bid

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)
Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

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.

Supreme Court to hear appeal on Shooter residency ruling

Don Shooter testifies during a hearing, June 14, 2018, in Judge Rosa Mroz’s Maricopa County Superior Courtroom, Phoenix. (Photo by Mike Meister/Arizona Republic)
Don Shooter testifies during a hearing, June 14, 2018, in Judge Rosa Mroz’s Maricopa County Superior Courtroom, Phoenix. (Photo by Mark Henle/Arizona Republic)

A Republican contender in Legislative District 13 is appealing a lower court ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court that former lawmaker Don Shooter can stay on the ballot.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz ruled June 15 that Shooter, who was expelled from the Arizona House of Representatives in February for sexually harassing women, meets the residency requirements to run for the state Senate in LD13.

Brent Backus, one of Shooter’s opponents in the August 28 primary, claimed that Shooter doesn’t reside in Yuma County, where Shooter declared his primary residence. Lawmakers are required to reside in the county they are running in for at least one year prior to the election, according to a constitutional provision.

Tim LaSota, an attorney for Backus, appealed the judge’s determination that Shooter always intended to return to Yuma, even though Shooter’s voter registration was changed to Maricopa County and Shooter himself testified that he spends roughly two-thirds of his time at a home in Phoenix with his wife, Susan Shooter.

The appeal goes directly to the Arizona Supreme Court, which is required to hear election-related appeals.

Shooter testified he never changed his voter registration, had no idea how the change occurred, and that he didn’t know the power had been turned off at his Yuma condo.

“Yuma’s been good to me,” Shooter said in court on June 14. “It’s my home. I’ve spent considerable time and effort and money to continue that relationship. … I’m spending a lot of money right now to be a part of Yuma. It would be real easy to walk away. It’s a little irritating.”

LaSota previously told the Arizona Capitol Times that if the ruling stands, it would set a terrible precedent.

“The qualification for running for office are that you rent an apartment in the district you want to run from. You don’t even need power,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what the voters of the state had in mind when they passed the requirement that politicians have residency in the district they run from.”