By Jennifer Murray
Current campaigns preparing for the 2014 elections in Arizona were thrown into jeopardy last month when the state’s Court of Appeals issued an injunction that halted the new (and higher) campaign contribution limits. The court recently issued an opinion reaffirming the injunction, thus preventing Arizona’s Secretary of State, the state’s chief election officer, from implementing House Bill 2593, which enacted the new campaign contribution limits.
House Bill 2593 passed both houses of the legislature by a simple majority vote, and the Governor signed it into law in April 2013. The law amends sections of state statute limitations on campaign contributions; specifically, it increased the limits individuals could contribute to candidates for legislative or statewide office who chose not to accept public financing. It also removed caps on the total amount a candidate who does not participate in public financing could accept from a political committee (PAC), as well as the cap of the aggregate amount that an individual could contribute overall to non-participating candidates and PACs. For example, before HB 2593, an individual could contribute $390 to a non-participating candidate running for a legislative office (according to A.R.S. §16-905, §16-941(B)). Under the new law, an individual can contribute $2,000, which essentially doubles to $4,000 because HB 2594 treats primary and general elections as separate elections.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission contested the law on the grounds that it violates the Citizens Clean Elections Act and the Voter Protection Act. The Citizens’ Clean Elections Act passed as a ballot initiative, also known as Proposition 200, in November 1998. The act created a state public financing system and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
The Commission argued that since the voters enacted the campaign limits through ballot initiative, Arizona Constitution (see art.4, pt.1, §1(6)(C)) requires that any changes to limits must be approved by three-fourths of the House of Representatives and the Senate. HB 2593 only passed with a simple majority.
The Senate President and the Speaker of the House, both Republicans, argued that the campaign finance limits were unconstitutionally low, that candidates have a constitutional right to raise enough money to wage effective campaigns. They have since appealed their case to the Arizona Supreme Court.
So what happens now? How should candidates in the process of collecting contributions for their 2014 campaigns proceed? The office of Secretary of State Ken Bennett said that the case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, so it would not give an answer as to what instructions they were giving to candidates. A representative from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission said that candidates should consider retaining the money they’ve raised for now, but that the Commission will take no affirmative action until the courts give further guidance. However, they stated that the commission, which regularly reviews campaign finance reports, has the authority to enforce the campaign contribution limits and can potentially file suit against candidates who fail to follow to law. At this point, then, candidates running for election in 2014 will have to closely follow this situation to avoid legal trouble later on and may have to return the funds they have collected that are in excess of the original campaign laws if the Arizona Supreme Court rules in favor of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Jennifer is a second year graduate student in the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy at William & Mary.