PHOENIX — A new Arizona law allowing people to contribute more money to
candidates for statewide office is on hold amid a legal challenge.
In the meantime, the old limits on campaign contributions remain in place, a
state Court of Appeals said in an opinion Thursday. The appeals court is also
sending the case back to a trial judge to consider legal issues the judge’s
initial ruling didn’t cover.
A lawsuit by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the panel that
oversees the state’s public campaign finance system, is challenging the higher
limits approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year. The
judge last month rejected the commission’s request to put the higher limits on
hold pending a decision on the lawsuit.
However, the Court of Appeals in an Oct. 15 order blocked the higher limits.
The appeals court’s opinion issued Thursday keeps that order in place while
explaining what it wants done next.
The court said the commission raised “serious questions” about the
constitutionality of the 2013 law.
It said it sent the case back to the trial judge because that judge apparently
didn’t adequately consider possible First Amendment issues involving
restrictions on campaign contributions.
“We emphasize, however, that we have reached no opinion as to the ultimate
resolution of the parties’ arguments regarding the constitutionality of the …
limits under the Arizona Constitution and the First Amendment,” Judge Patricia
Norris wrote for a three-judge panel.
Under the new limits, the amount an individual would be able to contribute per
election cycle to a legislative candidate would rise to $4,000 from $390.
The commission’s lawsuit argues that the legislation violated a constitutional
protection for voter-approved laws.
A 1998 voter-approved law creating the public campaign finance system included
limits on private campaign contributions to candidates for state offices.
Also in 1998, Arizona voters approved restrictions on the Legislature’s
authority to change voter-approved laws without submitting the proposed changes
Republicans called the existing contribution limits too low and said the
voter-protection law didn’t bar lawmakers from changing the limits.