As candidates for legislative and statewide elected offices in Arizona are gearing up for the 2014 elections, a crucial yet unanswered question looms over the proceedings: how much money are candidates allowed to accept from campaign donors? In attempting to clarify the answer, the Arizona Court of Appeals held last month that House Bill 2593 was ineffective because it had not been passed with a supermajority as required by the Arizona Constitution.1 In doing so, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Clean Elections Commission and against the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. House Bill 2593, signed into law last spring, overrode existing campaign contribution limits by increasing the maximum contribution that political campaigns could accept from individual supporters. With the enjoinment of the new law, the previous, stricter, campaign contribution requirements are once again the law of Arizona—unless the Arizona Supreme Court steps in. The underlying dispute traces its genesis to the 1998 state general election.2 In that election, the voters of Arizona passed two ballot measures by popular referendum: Proposition 200, known as the Clean Elections Act;3 and Proposition 105, commonly referred to as the Voter Protection Act.4.
The voters were clear on what they intended to accomplish with the Clean Elections Act: lessen money’s influence on politics. The ballot language expressed a goal of “diminishing the influence of special-interest money,” and found the then-current system “discourage[ed] otherwise qualified candidates who lack personal wealth.” In response to these financial pressures, “elected officials spend too much of their time raising funds rather than representing the public.”5 In response to the many concerns, the Clean Elections Act provided public campaign financing to political candidates running for statewide and legislative offices as long as participating candidates agreed to limit their fundraising to within certain levels. Candidates who declined to participate in the public financing system (“nonparticipating candidates”) were subjected to spending caps.6 Instead of specifying absolute caps as dollar amounts for these nonparticipating candidates, the Clean Elections Act tied its restrictions to Arizona’s existing campaign contribution statute, A.R.S. § 16–905 (“section 905”). The Clean Elections Act capped spending for nonparticipating candidates at 20% less than the dollar amount specified in section 905, subject to annual increases for inflation.7 The two statutes thus are tied together; neither has independent meaning without the other.8
The second 1998 measure, the Voter Protection Act, was enacted to prevent “back room manipulation of election results”9 by politicians unhappy with voter referenda outcomes. The Voter Protection Act made it more difficult for the Legislature to modify referenda passed by Arizona voters.10 Specifically, the Voter Protection Act mandated that the legislature could only amend voter referenda as long as any proposed changes would “further the purpose” of the voters and further required that any amendments pass by a three-fourths supermajority of delegates in each legislative body.11 The Voter Protection Act was accordingly added to the Arizona Constitution as Article 4, § 1(6) and is still in full effect today.