PHOENIX — A judge ordered lawmakers Monday to provide voters with more information on their proposed changes to the operations of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury said the Republican-dominated Legislative Council left voters in the dark by failing to adequately explain how a ballot measure would strip away some rule-making authority of the commission.
That change would require the commission to have its rules reviewed — and potentially vetoed — by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, made up of gubernatorial appointees, or by the attorney general, who is an elected partisan official.
The political campaigns of both the governor and the attorney general are subject to commission oversight and fines for any violations of laws governing donations and expenditures.
Coury called the flawed portions “misleading by omission” and blocked the Secretary of State’s Office from distributing a pamphlet to voters until the description adopted by the Legislative Council is amended.
By law, the Legislative Council is required to craft an “impartial” analysis of each ballot measure. That analysis goes into a brochure sent to the homes of all 3.6 million registered voters.
The proposal at issue, being sent to the ballot by state legislators, would forbid publicly funded candidates from buying services from political parties and other groups that can influence elections. The more controversial part would subject the commission’s rule-making authority to outside oversight.
Both changes have to go on the ballot because it was a citizens’ initiative in 1998 that created the commission, and the Arizona Constitution prohibits lawmakers from tinkering with anything enacted by voters.
The judge said the pamphlet explanation needs a clear statement that current law exempts the commission from having its rules reviewed by outside groups. Coury said voters also need to be told that the commission, in establishing its own rules, already has procedures it is required to follow, including public notice and opportunity for public comment.
Tom Collins, the commission’s executive director, said these facts are important because the commission, as set up by voters, was designed to not be subject to political interference.
“The Legislative Council went out of its way,” Collins said, “to obscure the fact that political appointees of the governor, whoever the governor is, and a politically elected official who might be subject to the commission’s own jurisdiction, might potentially have a say in how the commission’s rules operate.”
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who chairs the Legislative Council, said he will review Monday’s ruling with attorneys and other lawmakers before deciding whether to make the changes or to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.