PHOENIX — The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday blocked enactment of a new state law allowing candidates to take sharply higher campaign donations.

In a brief ruling, the three-judge panel essentially accepted arguments by the attorney for the Citizens Clean Elections Commission that there is reason to believe the higher limits, approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature, are illegal. The court did not explain which of two legal theories advanced by Joe Kanefield they were accepting.

Most immediately, the order directs Secretary of State Ken Bennett, as the state's chief election officer, not to enforce the law. That immediately limits candidates to the lower figures that were in place.

Less clear is what happens to the money that candidates accepted after the law took effect on Sept. 13 but before Tuesday.

Kanefield said that, generally speaking, court rulings are retroactive. That would force candidates to refund anything they got above those limits.

He said, though, it is up to the appellate court to decide, given the mechanics involved, whether the ruling should be prospective only.

The decision is a sharp rebuff for GOP legislative leaders who argued lawmakers are free to alter -- or in some cases, abolish entirely -- limits on what candidates can take and donors can give.

But the ruling is unlikely to be the last word, with an appeal to the state Supreme Court virtually certain.

Senior Editor, News, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Az.