Under the VPA, which amended the Arizona Constitution, legislative changes to voter-approved laws like the Citizens Clean Elections Act (CCEA) are only allowed if they (1) “further the purposes” of the voter-approved law and (2) are approved by “at least three-fourths of the members of each house of the legislature.” In 2016, Senate Bill 1516 made changes to statutes referenced in the CCEA and changes that challengers argued implicitly amended the CCEA. The bill was not supported by a three-fourths vote.
In Superior Court, the Plaintiff, a voter advocacy group, sued to enjoin application of SB 1516 because the law did not comply with the Voter Protection Act, asserting that (1) the revised definitions of “contribution” and “expenditures,” among other changes, amended the CCEA because that Act incorporated those definitions directly into the Act and (2) by attempting to give sole investigative authority to other government officials, SB 1516 was inconsistent with provisions in the CCEA granting broad enforcement authority to the Commission. The Superior Court agreed and enjoined portions of SB 1516.
The Court of Appeals relied extensively on Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission v. Brain, 234 Ariz. 322 (2014) to hold that the definitions of “contribution” and “expenditures” in the CCEA could be amended without complying with the VPA, even though the CCEA incorporated the terms by reference. The Court reasoned that, because the Act incorporated the terms by reference rather than defining them in the Act, the intent of the CCEA was that those terms could change over time, like variables in a formula. The Court of Appeals therefore reversed on this issue. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the separate question of whether the Legislature could effectively restrict the Commission from investigating potential violations of the CCEA by granting sole investigative authority to other government officials, agreeing with Appellees that this is inconsistent with the CCEA’s broad grant of enforcement authority to the Commission.
Judge Gass authored the opinion in which Judges Winthrop and Cruz joined.
Posted by: Travis Hunt
Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys were involved in this case.