PHOENIX - State lawmakers are moving to give themselves and other candidates the right to collect more money - a lot more - from individuals and political action committees, even as they ask voters to effectively kill the option of public financing.
Political contributors are now limited to giving a maximum of $440 to a legislative candidate and $912 to a candidate for statewide office. HB 2593, approved Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee, would boost the total to as much as $4,000 - contributors could give $2,000 for the primary, and if their candidate wins, another $2,000 for the general election.
The law would also eliminate the cap on total contributions any one person or political action committee can make to all candidates each year. The maximum is now $6,390.
Separately, the committee also voted to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to defund the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said it's time to ask voters to revisit their 1998 approval of the system that allows candidates who do not take private money to get set amounts of public funding.
Todd Lang, director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, called HCR 2026 "deceptive."
He said it is not a straightforward, up-or-down proposal on the future of public financing. Instead, the measure asks voters to divert all of the money now going to candidates to public education instead.
"Who's against education for our schools?" Lang told lawmakers, noting the money that goes to campaigns is largely from a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines, not from taxpayers.
Even if voters ultimately reject Boyer's proposal to defund Clean Elections, Lang said the other measure approved Thursday could ultimately have the same effect of killing the system without first consulting voters.
He pointed out HB 2593, while boosting private funding for candidates, does not similarly increase the amount of money available for those who choose public funding rather than taking money from individuals and special interests. He said this legislation undermines the public's intent in providing an alternative to soliciting donations.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, did not dispute that contention. But he said publicly financed candidates do not have the same hurdles as those, like him, who go out and solicit donations.
"You get the money handed to you," he said.
Anyway, he said HB 2593 is designed to deal with an entirely different issue: the rising influence of independent expenditure committees.
The problem, he said, is that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case allows these outside committees to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money. What's worse, Mesnard said, is the campaigns they wage on behalf of individuals or against their foes are beyond the control of the candidates.
"Many candidates have been relegated to mere spectators in their campaigns," he said.
"What good is the $30,000 or $40,000 I raise, $300 and $400 at a time ... when one side is out there raising $400,000 and the other side is raising $400,000," Mesnard continued. "I might as well sit back and watch and hope I come out on top," he said.
Mesnard argued there's an advantage to the public by funneling more money through candidates' own campaigns than through the independent committees: The source of all contributions to candidates must be reported several times during the campaign, something that does not apply to the outside groups.
To prevent last-minute anonymous infusions, Mesnard's proposal would require candidates to report within 72 hours any individual donation of $1,000 in the last 20 days before the election.
Lang, however, said that still leaves publicly financed candidates at a sharp disadvantage.
For the 2014 election, legislative candidate would get just $15,253 for their primary race and $22,880 for the general election.
Absent an increase in public funding, Lang said Mesnard's legislation "completely undermines" what voters wanted when they approved the Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998, and predicted a court fight if the change is approved.
Proposed changes in how much money contributors are allowed to give political candidates, and how much candidates can accept. All figures are for a two-year election cycle, unless noted otherwise.
Individual and PAC contribution to legislative candidate
• Current limit: $440
• Proposed limit: $4,000
Individual and PAC contribution to statewide candidate
• Current limit: $912
• Proposed limit:$4,000
Annual limit on what individuals or PACs can give to all candidates
• Current limit: $6,390
• Proposed limit: No limit
Contribution from large PACs, with 500+ donors, to legislative candidate
• Current limit: $1,816
• Proposed limit: $8,000
Contribution from large PACs, with 500+ donors, to statewide candidates
• Current limit: $4,560
• Proposed limit: $4,560
Limit on what legislative candidates can take from all PACs
• Current limit: $14,688
• Proposed limit: No limit
Sources: Secretary of State's Office, HB 2593