The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected arguments from the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and allowed new, higher campaign contribution limits passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to go into effect. The ruling issued just hours after the court heard oral arguments is a major victory for Republicans, who pushed for the major increases in contribution limits in the past legislative session despite warnings from Democrats that they would run afoul of state law protecting voter-approved laws. The court said it will issue a formal opinion explaining its reasoning later. The court overturned an October decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found the law conflicted with the Voter Protection Act. That law requires a three-fourths vote of the Legislature to make major changes to voter-approved laws. The brief court order also lifted the injunction the appeals court put in place blocking the higher limits from taking effect.
The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission wanted the limits blocked, arguing the 1998 law creating the state’s public campaign financing system set clear limits on donations. The law creating the commission reduced the limits at the time by 20 percent and only allowed for increases tied to inflation.
The five justices focused on that argument. They questioned whether the Citizens Clean Elections Act could be interpreted to allow for a 20 percent reduction from higher limits adopted by the Legislature.
“We simply come back to whether the voters in 1998 intended to adopt the limits as then existed … or intended to adopt a function saying the limits will be 80 percent of what the Legislature otherwise sets them to be,” Justice Scott Bales said while questioning Joseph Kanefield, who represented the commission.