Campaign Contribution Limits

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State lawmakers passed a law that raises campaign contribution limits ten-fold. That law is now being challenged in court. The suit says the law violates the state’s Voter Protection Act, which prohibits lawmakers from making substantial changes to laws approved by voters. Louis Hoffman, a commissioner from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission will discuss the suit, along with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Ted Simons: A new state law that raises campaign contribution limits is being challenged in court. The suit claims that the law violates the state's Voter Protection Act, which prohibits the legislature from making substantial changes to laws approved by voters. Joining us now is Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who favors the law, and a Commissioner from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, among those suing the State, Louis Hoffman. Thank you so much for joining us.

Bill Montgomery: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: What does the new law do?

Bill Montgomery: It addresses a very important gaping hole in our campaign finance system by raising to a more competitive level how much an individual can give to a candidate. With a 20% reduction in law, it'll be $2,000 for each election, primaries and campaigns. The same way clean elections frees up to nine participating candidates. Additionally it requires trigger reports if a candidate within 20 days of an election receives a contribution of $1,000 or more from a single source they have to report it. And if they receive a contribution from a single source of $1,000 or more they have to provide notice of that before receiving it.

Louis Hoffman: What Mr. Montgomery didn't say is that those limits are in some cases removed entirely, and most other cases increased by a factor of nine or ten, nine with the reduction that he described. The voters in Arizona decided in 1998 to limit the size of campaign contributions, and had decided that for a decade earlier than that. And this bill basically makes a tenfold increase without following the procedures set by the Voter Protection Law.

Ted Simons: I want to get to those procedures. But first, why is this law necessary? Why should the caps be increased?

Bill Montgomery: The increase in contributions that an individual can make to a candidate is in many ways reflective of two instances in which the U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned Arizona about how low our limits are. First in 2006, Arizona along with a handful of other states were called out in a footnote in that case, that our contribution limits were very low. In 2011 with the Free Enterprise Club against Secretary Bennett. Arizona's contribution limits, the austere limits were among the most austere in the United States. They have been low and recognized as low. The fact that you can say it's a nine-fold increase is not an outrageous amount. This year five other states increased their contribution limits, Wyoming to $2,500 Florida to $3,000, Minnesota to $4,000 and that incredibly large state of Maryland to $6,000. We're still at the bottom of that.

Ted Simons: Are Arizona contribution limits too low, and does this new law not address the problem?

Louis Hoffman: If there's a problem to be secured with low contribution limits, the answer is not to simply ignore what the voters did and go ahead and pass a tenfold increase without following the procedures specified. The law is not unconstitutionally low, the cases that Mr. Montgomery cited to the contrary. We -- but if you're going to avoid a problem -- let me just say, we've had the contribution limits in this state for 26 years and at no time has anyone even challenged the constitutionality of the statute in a court case until about a month ago. If there's some perception these are too low to be unconstitutional, based on reading tea leaves, then a challenge can be made. If you're going to raise the rates in the state, you have to comply with the Arizona Constitution. The Supreme Court simply ignored that.

Ted Simons: You can't change measures without the voters approving the changes. That seems to be the crux of the issue.

Bill Montgomery: I think it's shameful and it's going to be exhibit A next session when the legislature goes to get rid of the Clean Elections Commission. The Voter Protection Act as it pertains to the Citizens Clean Election Initiative as it was first passed doesn't require Arizona to leave untouched or pass with a super majority the actual amount. It addresses the limitation statute but that's it. This argument is breathtaking. Just because an initiative addresses a particular statute, if the Arizona Supreme Court were to rule, yep, that brings it into voters, under the Voter Protection Act, then within the next few cycles you'll have groups working to handcuff the legislature and prevent them from addressing unconstitutional circumstances like what we have right now.

Ted Simons: You're saying references and provisions are not the same as the law in total?

Bill Montgomery: Correct. Within the Clean Elections Initiative, look, those who drafted it could have set a limit to start with. They didn't. That kind of in-artful drafting is something we see in Arizona time and time again. We saw problematic arguments made with the top two initiatives, notwithstanding. Within the Clean Elections Initiative itself, all it said was that for the limits introduced in 16905, the Secretary of State has an additional mechanism by which they can be raised. If you're going to limit the legislature's constitutional authority to pass legislation, you have to do more than just give a wink and not to other statutes. This was awful. The Voter Protection Act was meant in some ways to say to the legislature, if you want to change us, you have to further it. You can't further a problem, the legislature has got to have the ability to address it. There's no harm that can be stated by anybody in this lawsuit. There's no authority to bring it and everything else is speculative.

Ted Simons: Respond, please.

Louis Hoffman: Sure. The voters set up the commission and the voters of the State of Arizona assigned our commission the duty precisely to defend the choice of the voters to limit campaign contributions. We're doing our duty, our job here. As the -- I was one of the -- I was the lead person drafting this statute, and I wrote this particular statute. With all due respect to my learned colleague, it does not simply give a wink and nod to the other statute that sets forth limits. It says that a nonparticipating candidate shall not accept an amount that is higher than specified by the limit. The limit is specified by referring to the list of numbers in the statute that defined the separate amounts to do. It said, could the legislature have simply ignored the will of the voters when we said the limit should be, say, $440, and reduced that 20%? And the next day gone back and just increased it 20% again, just for the sake of it? This is not -- this is the sort of legislative finagling and shenanigans that voters don't like and courts have seen through that ruse. I think we'll see whether he's right about his prediction of whether this gets rejected or not. The Court has time and time again said the legislature does not have the power, the citizens retain the power, the legislature cannot make direct or indirect cuts to the initiative.

Ted Simons: Someone argued the will of the voters relatively clear in this. Are you saying, not necessarily?

Bill Montgomery: Here what's voters were promised. First they were told if you pass a Clean Elections Initiative, you will diminish the influence of special interests in Arizona. No. Instead, because we have this closed contribution system and artificially low limits, that money has gone to independent expenditures and to PACs. They were told it would increase voter participation in elections. NO. It hasn't done a darn thing to increase the turnout. The third point was that we were promised that it would promote free speech. Yet one of the cornerstones of the matching funds was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court because it violated free speech by unfairly and unreasonably limiting the contribution limits, forcing people who want to exercise their First Amendment rights to seek other avenues to influence elections. If we want to track money you do it to candidates. In the same point in which I referenced the Supreme Court's contributions as austere. If you want to know where money is going, give to it a candidate who has to report it to a frequent schedule. We have a different ability today than we did when the Citizens Clean Elections Commission was first passed. People have computers now, there are reports on a database and the Secretary's website is accessible. Voters can do that. All these other arguments about direction that was absent back then, it hasn't come to fruition, the promises haven't been made. The will of the voters is trying to figure out who's trying influence who and how much. They are giving voters the ability to exercise their rights to free speech.

Ted Simons: What -- how much of that does come into play when you do talk about the will of the voters, who wanted perhaps A, B, and C.

Louis Hoffman: Clean Elections is not intended to solve every problem with the world or with elections. It was intended to provide an additional path so that candidates who didn't have access to special sources of money would be able to run regardless. The point of Supreme Court cases talking about the limits is to make sure there's a path where a candidate can run for office. If you unconstitutionally lower limits, it abridges the right of a candidate to run a campaign. We don't have any track record of candidates being stopped from running. If they did have an inability to run under the limits that exist or existed, they could easily go and run during clean elections. With regard to your question about independent -- and Mr. Montgomery's point about independent expenditures, I share your concern about the disclosure and influence of elections outside the normal channel of giving. It's not an excuse to violate the Voter Protection Act of the Arizona Constitution.

Ted Simons: Last point very quickly: Contribution limits set in clean elections law, limits messed with by this particular law. How does that not wind up in court?

Bill Montgomery: First off, you have to show it harming voter protection argument. It tries to stretch the item. You have the legislature act responsibly. One point to make real quickly, the average amount raised by those running in legislative districts was about $26,000, exceeding the -- less than what it would cost someone to be able to send a letter to all registered voters in their district. It's not working in that regard. The other point to be made, let's go through a cycle, let's see exactly what people can raise. It's a limit, it's not a guarantee. And if those who want to run as a clean elections candidate are some distanced, they may say this is exactly what we need to raise those limits to and I don't have a problem with it.

Louis Hoffman:$26,000, you just gave that figure, you could have a living room with a big donor, with 13 people giving you $2,000.

Ted Simons: Good discussion, thank you for joining us.

Louis Hoffman: Thank you for having us.

Louis Hoffman:Commissioner, Citizens Clean Elections Comission;Bill Montgomery:Attorney, Maricopa County;

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