PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court refused Tuesday to step into the fight over whether legislators broke the law by sharply increasing how much candidates can take from private donors and special interests.
In a brief order, the justices rejected a bid by challengers to immediately take up the issue. They gave no reason for the ruling.
The move does not mean the challengers have lost. Instead it simply means they need to make their case first to a trial judge. And whatever that judge rules likely eventually will wind up before the high court — though that could take months or longer.
But it is a setback for the challengers who had hoped to get a final ruling before the higher contribution limits take effect in less than two months. They had hoped to get at least an interim order blocking the law before money starts changing hands.
Current law limits how much individuals and political action committees can give, both to any one candidate and to all candidates in any election cycle.
The new law boosts what legislative candidates can take from individuals from $440 to $4,000. It also scraps the limit on what these candidates can take from all political action committees and kills the current limit on how much any one person or PAC can give to all candidates each year.
The challenge is based on the contention that the existing limits are linked to the 2000 voter-approved Citizens Clean Elections Act. It provides public dollars to candidates for statewide and legislative office who voluntarily agree not to take private funds.
Attorney Louis Hoffman, who also is a member of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and one of the challengers, said the Arizona Constitution bars lawmakers from tinkering with voter-approved measures. The only exception is if a change advances the purpose of what voters approved.
Hoffman said this legislation does not do that because it leaves untouched the funding available for publicly financed candidates. He said that undermines the purpose of the 2000 initiative which was to give those take public money a reasonable chance of competing financially with privately funded contenders.
Proponents of the change, however, said they are free to alter campaign finance limits, first enacted in 1986, specifically because they made no changes to Clean Elections funding.
Hoffman said Tuesday the next step may be trying to get a trial judge to at least temporarily block the higher campaign donation limits until the lawsuit is resolved.