PHOENIX — Arizona voters who want to preclude publicly funded candidates from buying services from political parties also will have to vote for new limits on the powers of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to get that change.
And vice versa.
In an extensive ruling Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders rejected arguments by supporters of the commission that it’s illegal to put voters in the position where they have to support both changes just to get the one they want — even if they don’t like the other one.
Sanders acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution requires changes in that document to be presented to voters as separate proposals. But the judge said the two changes the Republican-controlled Legislature wants voters to approve are statutory, not constitutional.
“If the framers of the Arizona Constitution had intended that statutory amendments submitted by either initiative or referendum be subjected to a separate amendment restriction, they could have done so,” she wrote. “They did not.”
Attorney Danny Adelman who represents Louis Hoffman and Amy Chan, two former members of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said he will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to intercede.
Time is of the essence as counties will begin printing up the bottom half of ballots — the part with measures for voters to approve or reject — by the end of August. That means there needs to be a final ruling before then on whether the issue will go to voters.
The proposal put on the ballot by lawmakers seeks to make two changes in the law that allows but does not require candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public dollars if they avoid special interest donations. Funding comes largely from a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.
One provision would prohibit those candidates from purchasing services like advertising from political parties or outside groups that have their own independent ability to influence elections.
The commission does allow such spending, though with restrictions on its use and requirements for accounting. But Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said it’s not proper to funnel public dollars into those organizations.
More sweeping is the other provision that would subject any rules enacted by the commission to review — and potential veto — by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council. That council is made up of six appointees of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Adelman argued to Sanders that giving political appointees that veto power would undermine the independence of what is supposed to be a bipartisan commission.
Sanders pointed out in her eight-page ruling that she is not deciding on the merits of the ballot measure.
“That is for the voters to decide,” she wrote. What is within her authority, Sanders said, is whether placing the two issues on the ballot as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal violates the Arizona Constitution.
“The court finds that it does not,” Sanders said.
Adelman said the judge, in looking only at what can be on the ballot, is missing a key point.
He noted the Arizona Constitution has a separate provision that says “every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” That section governs what the Legislature itself can do.
What that means, Adelman argued, is the Legislature acted improperly in voting to put the measure — and its two parts — on the ballot in the first place.
“When they passed this, it was a legislative act,” he told Capitol Media Services.
“Every member of the Legislature had to vote on that,” Adelman continued. “The single-subject rule protects them from having to cast an all-or-nothing vote on this.”
Sanders, however, pointed out that the Arizona Supreme Court has said that the single-subject rule does not apply when voters propose their own laws through the initiative process.
She conceded there is no actual court ruling on whether that exemption applies to measures referred to voters by the Legislature itself. But the judge said she believes they, too, do not have to comply with the single-subject rule.