PHOENIX — An attorney for Republican interests asked the Arizona Supreme Court Monday to once again allow candidates to accept and donors to give more money, saying their constitutional rights are being irreparably harmed.
Mike Liburdi said an injunction imposed on the higher limits last month by the state Court of Appeals creates a hardship on Republican legislative leaders who sued as well as members of the public who might want to give to their campaigns or those of other politicians. He said having to live with lower limits — the ones in effect prior to lawmakers approving higher ones — affects the First Amendment rights of both contributors and candidates.
“The loss of First Amendment freedoms for even minimal periods of time unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury, especially when political speech is involved,” Liburdi wrote.
Tom Colllins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, scoffed at the contention. He said having to live within the existing limits does not impair anyone's First Amendment rights.
That question of irreparable harm is crucial because Liburdi wants the state's high court to allow use of the much higher limits while the legality of the law makes its way through the court system. That process could take months, affecting fundraising for the 2014 campaign.
And Liburdi said those limits — coupled with the ability of independent groups to raise and spend unlimited dollars — have made candidates “spectators in their own elections.”
Right now candidates for legislative races cam take no more than $440 from any one source or political action committee; the cap is $912 for statewide races.
The legislation raised both to $4,000. It also eliminated the cap of $14,688 on how much candidates can take from all PACS every election cycle and scrapped the limit of $6,390 on how much any individual or PAC can give to all candidates in any year.
Liburdi argued these limits prevent candidates from running effective campaigns, and he said donors “cannot effectively exercise their free speech rights because they are limited in the amount they can give to the candidate of their choice.”
And he told the justices that politicians and donors deserve at least as much in free speech rights as they have previously given to tattoo artists and adult bookstores.
Collins, however, said no one's rights are being violated.
He said nothing in the law precludes candidates from raising as much as they want — as long as they do not get more than certain limits from any one source. And Collins said that voters, who approved the first campaign finance limits in 1986, recognize the need for such limits.
“Along with direct contributions to candidates comes corruption or the appearance of corruption,” he said. Collins said limits ensure that “the public gets a system that works.”
He also noted that nothing in the law precludes individuals, on their own, from spending as much as they want to urge the election or defeat of any candidate. The only requirement is that such expenditures be made totally independent of the candidate.
Liburdi, however, said that's not practical for most individuals who lack the kind of wealth to individually mount such campaigns. He said they would much prefer to add what they can to the efforts of others to give a candidate the money needed to do the kinds of things necessary like advertising and mailers.
Of more immediate concern, said Liburdi, is what will happen to candidates, especially incumbents, if they are stuck with those $440 limits.
“Time is of the essence,” he said.
“You effectively have a matter of months, a matter of weeks to effectively raise money before the legislative session begins,” Liburdi explained. “Once that legislative session begins, they have to focus on their legislative duties.”
There's a more practical deadline for lawmakers trying to build a war chest.
A good portion of what incumbents raise for reelection bids comes from lobbyists and their clients. And Arizona law precludes legislators from taking money from them when they are in session — a session that can last into June.
Liburdi said he hopes to get the Supreme Court to set a schedule this week to hear the case as soon as possible.