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Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission v. Brain - 10/24/2013

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That HB 2593 Does Not Affect the Contribution Limits for State and Legislative Candidates Set by the Citizens Clean Elections Act and Grants Preliminary Injunctive Relief Requiring Enforcement of Previous Limits.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, Louis Hoffman, Victoria Steele, and the Arizona Advocacy Network (“Petitioners”) sued the Secretary of State to enjoin the enforcement of new and significantly higher contribution limits passed by the Legislature through HB 2593.  The trial court denied Petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction, and they sought special action relief from the Court of Appeals.  Petitioners advanced two arguments in support of their petition:  (1) that § 16-941(B) independently set contribution limits for state and legislative races and, therefore, the passage of HB 2593 (which only modified A.R.S. § 16-905) did not impact those limits and (2) even if HB 2593 did impact the limits set forth in § 16-941(B), then HB 2593 was unconstitutional for failure to comply with the requirements of the Voter Protection Act when modifying § 16-941(B), a voter initiative.  Respondents, to the contrary, contended that § 16-941(B) simply set a reduction formula, reducing whatever limits the Legislature chose to set in § 16-905 by 20%.

The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction and granted relief.  After determining that the parties had sufficient standing to proceed, the Court first addressed the statutory interpretation argument.  The Court determined that the language of § 16-941(B) was subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, but, after examining the language of the initiative, the Court determined that A.R.S. § 16-941(B) affirmatively set contribution limits for statewide and legislative candidates at 80% of the limits codified in A.R.S. §16-905. The Court noted that the language of the Citizens Clean Elections Act demonstrated that voters intended to set limits.  Section 16-941(B) contained a mechanism for inflation adjustments, separate from that in § 16-905.  Further, § 16-941(B) further began with the phrase “[n]otwithstanding any law to the contrary,” indicating that this section was intended to stand on its own, apart from § 16-905.  Moreover, the Court reasoned that the context and background of the passage of the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which took place amidst a backdrop of corruption scandals, supported an inference that voters intended to set limits apart from § 16-905. 

After finding that § 16-941(B) independently set limits for state and legislative races, the Court evaluated the impact of HB 2593 on those limits.  The Court determined that HB 2593 had no impact on the limits set in § 16-941(B), noting that, under general principles of statutory construction, when a statute specifically refers to another statute, it takes the adopted statute as it existed at the time of adoption, without any subsequent modifications.  Given the resolution of statutory interpretation question, the Court did not reach the merits of the Voter Protection Act question. 

Analyzing the preliminary injunction request, the Court determined that Petitioners had sufficiently demonstrated that the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor.  The Court expressed no opinion on First Amendment concerns raised by the respondents and determined that those issues could be argued on remand.  The Court, therefore, granted the preliminary injunction and ordered that the injunction remain in effect for the duration of the trial court’s evaluation and decision on the declaratory, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief sought by Petitioners. 

Judge Norris authored the opinion; Judges Howe and Orozco concurred.

Osborn Maledon served as co-counsel for several of the petitioners.

Posted by: Christina Rubalcava

Posted On: 10/30/2013