PHOENIX — An attorney for Republican interests asked the Arizona Supreme Court on Monday to restore candidates’ ability to accept, and donors to give, more money, saying their constitutional rights are being irreparably harmed.
Mike Liburdi said an injunction imposed by the state Court of Appeals on the higher limits last month creates a hardship on Republican legislative leaders who sued, as well as members of the public who might want to give to their campaigns or those of other politicians.
He said having to live with lower limits — the ones in effect prior to lawmakers approving higher ones — affects the First Amendment rights of both contributors and candidates.
“The loss of First Amendment freedoms for even minimal periods of time unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury, especially when political speech is involved,” Liburdi wrote.
But Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said having to live within the existing limits does not impair anyone’s First Amendment rights.
That question of irreparable harm is crucial because Liburdi wants the state’s high court to allow use of the much higher limits while the legality of the law makes its way through the court system, which could take months, affecting fundraising for the 2014 campaign.
Liburdi said the lower limits — coupled with the ability of independent groups to raise and spend unlimited dollars — have made candidates “spectators in their own elections.”
Right now candidates for legislative races can take no more than $440 from any one source or political action committee; the cap is $912 for statewide races.
The legislation raised both to $4,000. It also eliminated the cap of $14,688 on how much candidates can take from all PACs every election cycle and scrapped the limit of $6,390 on how much any individual or PAC can give to all candidates in any year.
Liburdi argued these limits prevent candidates from running effective campaigns. And he said donors “cannot effectively exercise their free speech rights because they are limited in the amount they can give to the candidate of their choice.’’
And he told the justices that politicians and donors deserve at least as much in free speech rights as they have previously given to tattoo artists and adult bookstores.
Collins said nothing in the law precludes candidates from raising as much as they want, as long as they do not get more than certain limits from any one source. He said voters, who approved the first campaign finance limits in 1986, recognize the need for such limits.
“Along with direct contributions to candidates comes corruption or the appearance of corruption,’’ he said.
He also noted nothing in the law precludes individuals, on their own, from spending as much as they want to urge the election or defeat of any candidate. The only requirement is that such expenditures be made totally independent of the candidate.
Liburdi said he hopes to get the Supreme Court to set a schedule this week to hear the case as soon as possible.