Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Arizona’s highest court hands business community a free speech megaphone

The Arizona Supreme Court yesterday issued a historic order that represents a huge win for the voice of Arizona’s job creators. This will have very positive implications for all legislative and statewide office races in the upcoming cycle and, when coupled with the U.S. Supreme Court’s disposal of a matching-funds provision, greatly diminishes the attractiveness of using of taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns.

Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission v. Brain stems from a bill that Rep. JD Mesnard introduced last session. Rep. Mesnard recognized that Arizona’s contribution limits and the restrictions on PACs and SuperPACs were adversely impacting the ability of the business community and others to exercise their political voices. He introduced H.B. 2593, which increased the contribution limits for PACs, Super PACs and individuals, and removed the aggregate limits for contributions candidates can receive from PACs.

This latter provision is a game-changer for Arizona organizations with PACs. Because candidates can no longer “PAC out,” an organization’s free speech is no longer limited by how quickly it can get a check to a campaign.

The bill was signed by Gov. Brewer, and then challenged by the Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission. CCEC alleged that the 1998 ballot initiative that created it also froze the 1998 contribution limits in place, subject only to future inflation adjustments. Further, CCEC argued that because the Voter Protection Act was also on the ballot in 1998, those limits were voter-protected and could only be adjusted by going back to the ballot.

Kudos to attorney Mike Liburdi, who represented Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin, for defending the law. Liburdi argued that the 1998 initiative did not enact specific dollar caps but simply created a formula. Legislators, he explained, were free to change the limits at any time, subject to the 20 percent reduction contained in the original ballot measure.

The Arizona Chamber weighed in on the issue as well, filing amicus curiae brief in conjunction with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Greater Phoenix Leadership to make the case for the removal of aggregate PAC limits. Attorney Andy Gordon prepared the brief on behalf of the amici, as well as a supplemental brief that the Justices asked amici to prepare on an issue of statutory construction.

So what does all this mean? It means that thanks to the hard work of some incredibly smart people and support from our members and partners, the highest court in our state has upheld these new limits and strengthened the voice of the Arizona business community.

The changes to the limits are significant. For a candidate for statewide office, the new limit is $2,000 in the primary election and another $2,000 in the general, up from the old limit of $912. Legislative candidates also are subject to the $2,000 limit per election, up from a cap of $440.The cap for “super PACs,” or political-action committees, is up to $10,000 from $2,000.

Stay tuned, the full opinion of the Court may not be available for a few months. Understanding the “why” in this case will be just as critical for the business community as we navigate election and campaign finance laws moving forward.

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