Gubernatorial candidate files suit to keep campaign alive


Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is asking a judge to give him one last chance to qualify for public funding for his campaign.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that the Secretary of State’s Office shut down the online portal for people to make $5 donations that would entitle him to $839,704 in his bid to be the Republican nominee at 5 p.m. Tuesday. But he said Arizona law set the deadline for donations at midnight that night.

Bennett said he already has 3,995 donations. And he contends that he would have had the minimum 4,000 — and more — if the web site had not gone dark.

Representing himself, Bennett wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes to direct the site to be reopened for at least four hours. He told Capitol Media Services that will give campaign volunteers a chance to contact people who had said they would have given but for problems with the portal.

And he wants Contes to order the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which administers the public funding to accept these late donations even though they come after the deadline.

A hearing is set for Monday morning.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said he does not know whether she will oppose what Bennett, himself a former secretary of state, is demanding.

“The lawyers will decide that over the weekend,” he said.

But Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the extra time Bennett wants is contrary to the law.

Bennett acknowledged that by the time he gets a final ruling — especially if there is an appeal of whatever Contes decides — Tuesday’s primary election will be over. That means even if he gets his $5 donations and qualifies for the money it is too late for him to spend it in his bid for the nomination.

But Bennett said there still are reasons to pursue the case.

First, if Bennett defeats incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey, qualifying for public funding would entitle him to another $1.2 million for the general election campaign. And even if he loses, Bennett said the money could be used to repay him the $43,000 he loaned his campaign.

Bennett said he will produce at least one witness who will tell Contes of his inability to make a donation after 5 p.m. on Tuesday even though the site should have remained online until midnight.

Roberts acknowledged the portal did go dark at 5 p.m. but said that was the result of programming done under the administration of the prior secretary of state — meaning Bennett.

Bennett said that may very well be true, saying he was the one who first made online donations for public funding available. But he said it was up to Reagan and her staff to keep pace with changes in technology.

Roberts also said the site was reopened several hours later after Bennett complained.

Judge gives Bennett four hours to qualify for campaign funds

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

Ken Bennett got four more hours to gather more donations to qualify for public funding for his gubernatorial campaign.

Ruling from the bench, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes said Monday it clearly came as a surprise to everyone — including the state elections director — that the web site which allow for online donations shut down automatically at 5 p.m. this past Tuesday. She said the expectation was that the GOP gubernatorial hopeful would have until midnight.

“I think it’s clear that everyone as surprised by what appears to be to be a programming oversight,” the judge said.

The result, said Bennett, is that supporters who he was counting on to get him the 4,000 $5 donations he needs found themselves locked out. And by the time state Elections Director Eric Spencer had the site brought back, Bennett told the judge, it was too late to start calling people and getting them out of bed.

That left Bennett about 50 short of the minimum which were due last week.

So Contes directed Secretary of State Michele Reagan to reopen the online portal at 5 p.m. on Monday for four hours — the amount of time the portal was closed last week. That gave time for Bennett to notify supporters that if they didn’t get to give last week they have one more chance to get online and make the donation.

At one point Spencer sought to blame Bennett for the problem.

He said that it was during Bennett’s tenure as secretary of state — he served from 2009 through 2014 — that the programming on the web site was changed to have it go dark at 5 p.m. the day of the deadline.

Bennett said he was unaware that was part of the programming but said he would have fixed it had anyone brought it to his attention. And he said it was up to Reagan, as his successor, to reprogram the site ahead of every election.

Contes brushed aside the finger-pointing.

“Those things happen,” she said. “I’m not finding anything malicious about it.”

That, however, still left Bennett short of signatures.

“It seems that a correction is appropriate to remedy the shorting of a period of time that may affect only this candidate,” Contes said.

None of this will affect the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Even if Bennett can reach the 4,000 mark, the donations still need to be verified before he gets a check for $839,704. And that could take a week, meaning there is no way he will have the money in his bid to defeat incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

But Bennett told the judge that, if nothing else, he could use some of that money to repay the $43,000 he loan his campaign.

And if Bennett actually defeats Ducey in the GOP primary, he would get another $1.2 million to run against whoever the Democrats choose in their primary, plus any Libertarian or Green party candidates who are running as write-ins if they get enough votes.

Contes acknowledged that Bennett, who represented himself in court, did not follow all the legal procedures for serving a copy of the complaint on both Reagan’s office and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

But she said Bennett appeared to be following directions he was given by the bailiff of another judge.

And Contes said that the failures did not hamper the ability of the defendants to mount their claim.

Reagan chose not to appeal.