PHOENIX — Saying a quick answer is needed, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission asked the Court of Appeals on Wednesday to overturn a trial judge’s decision allowing candidates to take a lot more money from political supporters.
Tom Collins, the commission’s executive director, said his board believes the judge erred in concluding that lawmakers are free to reset the donation limits to whatever they want. The commission believes those limits are linked to the parallel public funding system, which, by virtue of being enacted by voters, is protected from legislative tinkering.
Collins said last week’s ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain allowed candidates for legislative office to immediately start accepting up to $4,000 from individual donors and political action committees. The old limit — the one Collins is trying to have restored — caps that at $440.
The new law also allows legislative candidates to take an unlimited amount from all political action committees, superseding a $14,688 limit. And it eliminates the $6,390 lid on the amount any one individual or PAC can give to all candidates in any given year.
Collins said the longer the appellate court takes to resolve the issue, the more time candidates will believe they can take and spend these bigger donations.
He said the commission wants to make sure everyone involved in the political process “has some certainty about what the rules of the road are.”
Michael Liburdi, who represents Republican legislative leaders who approved the change, said the trial ruling frees candidates to spend the money they get and allows them to keep the larger donations now being collected, even if an appellate court subsequently overturns Brain’s ruling.
Supporters of the higher limits believe there is a constitutional right not only of individuals to give what they want but also for candidates to be able to gather enough in private donations to wage an effective campaign.
Voters approved the Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998, allowing statewide and legislative candidates to receive limited public funding if they reject private campaign contributions. It also decreased the limit on individual campaign contributions by 20 percent.
Another state law requires a three-fourths vote of the House and the Senate to alter a voter-approved measure. Although the contribution increase fell short of that mark, Brain said it didn’t matter because voters never set a specific limit for contributions.
The appellate judges agreed to consider the request on Oct. 9.