Arizona legislators work to increase campaign contribution allowances - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona legislators work to increase campaign contribution allowances

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 4:11 pm

State lawmakers are moving to give themselves and other candidates the right to collect more money -- a lot of it -- from individuals and political action committees, even as they ask voters to effectively kill the option of public financing.

One measure approved Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee would statutorily boost the limits to $2,000 from any individual source. The current cap is $440.

But the increase in HB 2593 would be even more significant.

It would for the first time ever create separate limits for the primary and general elections. So that actually lets candidates take up to $4,000 every election from anyone.

Potentially more significant, the legislation would allow any one person or PAC to wield huge influence statewide. That's because HB 2593 would eliminate existing limits on the total each could contribute every year to all candidates in all statewide and local races.

That cap is now $6,390.

Separately, the committee also voted to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to defund the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said it's time to ask voters to revisit their 1998 approval of the system that allows candidates who do not take private money to get set amounts of public funding.

But Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said called HCR 2026 "deceptive.''

He said is not a straight-forward, up-or-down proposal on the future of public financing. Instead, the measure asks voters to divert all of the money now going to candidates instead to public education.

"Who's against education for our schools?'' Lang told lawmakers. And Lang said this fails to note that campaigns are financed not by taxpayer dollars but largely through a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

Even if voters ultimately reject Boyer's proposal to defund Clean Elections, Lang said the other measure approved Thursday could ultimately have the same effect of killing the system -- and without first consulting voters.

He pointed out that HB 2593, while boosting private funding for candidates, does not similarly increase the amount of money available for those who choose not to seek money from individuals and special interests. He said this legislation undermines the public's intent in providing an alternative to soliciting donations.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who crafted the change, did not dispute that contention. But he said that publicly financed candidates do not have the same hurdles as those, like him, who go out and solicit donations.

"You get the money handed to you,'' he said.

Anyway, he said HB 2593 is designed to deal with an entirely different issue: the rising influence of independent expenditure committees.

The problem, he said, is that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case allows these outside committees to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money. What's worse, Mesnard said, is the campaigns they wage on behalf of individuals or against their foes are beyond the control of the candidates.

"Many candidates have been relegated to mere spectators in their campaigns,'' he told

"What good is the $30,000 or $40,000 I raise, $300 and $400 at a time if they give me that much, when one side is out there raising $400,000 and the other side is raising $400,000,'' Mesnard continued. "I might as well sit back and watch and hope I come out on top,'' he said, saying candidates are reduced to "a ping-pong ball'' in a battle between outside groups whose messages they cannot influence.

The benefit to politicians aside, Mesnard argued there's an advantage to the public by funneling more money through candidates' own campaigns than through the independent committees: The source of all contributions to candidates must be reported several times during the campaign, something that does not apply to the outside groups.

And to sweeten the deal and prevent last-minute anonymous infusions, Mesnard's proposal would require candidates to report within 72 hours any individual donation of $1,000 in the last 20 days before the election.

Lang, however, said that still leaves publicly financed candidates at a sharp disadvantage.

For the 2014 election, legislative candidate would get just $15,253 for their primary race and $22,880 for the general election. And bipartisan legislation to boost those figures, while assigned to the same Judiciary Committee, was never even granted a hearing.

Lang said Mesnard's legislation, absent a similar change in public funding, "completely undermines'' what voters wanted when they approved the Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998. And he predicted that if lawmakers unbalance the system this way, the change approved Thursday is likely to wind up in court.

"And then we'll be back to where we started,'' he said.

Even Secretary of State Ken Bennett told lawmakers that if they go down this path they also will need to adjust public funding.

But Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, was unsympathetic. Allen, who ran with private donations, said he was outspent last election by a foe who used public funding.

At least part of what is in Mesnard's legislation could be made legally unnecessary.

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to existing limits on what individuals can contribute to all federal candidates every election cycle.

The limits for the upcoming election are set at $123,200. That includes $48,600 to federaly candidates and $74,600 to political parties and some PACs.

Issue, current limit, proposed limit

Individual and PAC contribution to legislative candidate: 

  • Current limit: $440 || proposed limit: $4,000

Contribution from large PACs to legislative candidate

  • Current limit: $1,816 || proposed limit: $8,000

Individual and PAC contribution to statewide candidate

  • Current limit: $912 || proposed limit: $4,000

Contribution from large PACS to statewide candidates

  • Current limit: $4,560 || proposed limit: $4,560

Limit on what legislative candidates can take from all PACS

  • Current limit: $14,688 || proposed limit: no limit

Annual limit on what individuals or PACS can give to all candidates

  • Current limit: $6,390 || proposed limit: no limit

Note that all figures except for aggregate limit in donations (last item) are for two-year election cycles.

Large PACS are those which have at least 500 donations of at least $10 or more per year.

-- Sources: Secretary of State's Office, HB 2593.

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