Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation v. Bennett (protecting citizens' right to vote)

Posted on May 24, 2011 | Type: Case
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In April 2011, the Arizona Legislature passed SCR1025 which allows voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would ban taxpayer money to fund political campaigns. A month later, the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation and several other organizations filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the referendum from being placed on the ballot or to narrow its application if passed. The Goldwater Institute—believing the Legislature has a right to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot and citizens have a right to decide them—has intervened on behalf of "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians," a ballot measure committee that was formed for the purpose of advocating for a 'yes' vote on the referendum.

What happened to bring about this challenge?

In 1998, Arizona voters passed Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Act. This law allows candidates seeking office who raise a certain amount of $5 donations to run as Clean Elections candidates. These candidates are given a certain amount of taxpayer money to campaign with if they agree not to accept any campaign contributions from private individuals or organizations. Clean Elections also gives these taxpayer funded candidates nearly a dollar-for-dollar in matching funds each time their privately financed opponent spends over a certain amount.

The Arizona Legislature voted in April 2011 to send a referendum to the 2012 ballot that would amend the Arizona Constitution to forbid the state, counties, cities, or towns to “collect or spend public funds to provide campaign support for candidates for public office.” Currently, the State of Arizona and the City of Tucson operate taxpayer funded political campaign systems. If voters approve the constitutional amendment, any taxpayer money appropriated for candidates to run for office would be placed in the state’s general fund.

The organization “No Taxpayer Money for Politicians” was created to advocate for final passage of the referendum. It has a compelling interest to see that voters have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed constitutional amendment. In May 2011, the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation and several other organizations filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court in an effort to get the referendum taken off the ballot. The Goldwater Institute filed a motion to intervene on behalf of “No Taxpayer Money for Politicians” in defense of the voters’ right to consider SCR1025.

What does Goldwater Institute want from this legal challenge?

The Goldwater Institute simply wants voters to have the opportunity to decide whether or not taxpayers should fund political campaigns. If the plaintiff succeeds in getting the referendum taken off the ballot, it will set a precedent that denies citizens a voice in the democratic process, and take away the right of duly elected legislators to refer a constitutional amendment to the Arizona ballot.

Who is the client?

"No Taxpayer Money for Politicians" is a ballot measure committee led by former state senator Jonathan Paton for the purpose of advocating for a 'yes' vote on the referendum.

What are the key issues?

The Arizona Constitution grants authority to the Arizona Legislature to recommend new constitutional amendments for consideration by voters at the next statewide general election.

The Constitution recognizes that members of the Legislature are elected policymakers who might identify ways to improve management of state government that would be appropriate to adopt through constitutional amendments. But the Constitution requires any proposed amendment to be referred to voters for final approval. The amendment process respects the expertise and knowledge gained by state lawmakers during their public service, while making sure that all Arizona citizens have the opportunity to vote on proposed changes to the state’s founding document. The lawsuit filed by the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation interferes with the Legislature’s authority under the Constitution to refer proposed amendments to the ballot, and would prevent voters from considering a change to the Constitution that has been recommended by a majority of the Legislature.

SCR1025 complies with a requirement of the Arizona Constitution that a proposed amendment must address a single subject.

The lawsuit claims the proposed constitutional amendment violates the “single-subject rule” because it would affect sources of funding used by the Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission for purposes not directly related to campaign financing such as lobbying, candidate publicity pamphlets, and agency advertising. However, SCR1025 asks voters to consider only one question—whether to permanently forbid the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the campaigns of candidates running for elective office. The proposed constitutional amendment does not address other activities of the Clean Elections Commission or any other government agency.

Can we win?

The Legislature approved SCR1025 fully aware that supporters of taxpayer funding for politicians’ campaigns would file a lawsuit to try to prevent voters from considering the measure. The ballot measure was written carefully to comply with all legal requirements for proposed constitutional amendments.

SCR1025 was properly passed by the Legislature as a referral to the voters, and it presents a single question for voters to decide: whether or not taxpayers should spend millions of dollars to subsidize the campaigns of politicians running for office. If the constitutional amendment is approved by voters, the City of Tucson would have a couple of months to re-direct the taxpayer money it has set aside for campaigns to another use.

Case Documents

Motion to Intervene (5/17/2011)

Case Timeline

April 18, 2011: Arizona Legislature passes Senate Concurrent Resolution 1025, sending the proposed amendment to repeal Arizona's system of taxpayer financed campaigns to the Secretary of State to put on the 2012 ballot.

May 6, 2011: Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation and several other organizations file lawsuit against SCR1025 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

May 17, 2011: Goldwater Institute files Motion to Intervene on behalf of "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians."

May 31, 2011: Goldwater Institute granted intervener status.

November 6, 2012: Election Day. The referendum will appear on the general election ballot.

The Legal Team

Clint Bolick is the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director. He has extensive success before trial judges and appellate courts. He has won two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was named as a Lawyer of the Year in 2003 by American Lawyer magazine.

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