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Fighting Bureaucrats’ Efforts to Stifle Free Speech

Legacy Foundation Action Fund v. Citizens Clean Election Commission

Case Status

Date Filed

June 4, 2015

Last Step

Filed friend of the court brief.

Next Step

Awaiting decision.

Case Overview

The Arizona Clean Elections Commission started this lawsuit by claiming it had authority to force registration and disclosure requirements on independent expenditures, i.e., speech that advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. The Secretary already regulates independent expenditures, and adding another layer of bureaucracy would only confuse things and created a more hostile environment for free speech. What’s more, it would be illegal: by commandeering the Secretary of State’s authority over independent expenditures, the Commission would be thrusting Arizona’s campaign finance laws into murky constitutional waters. For these and other reasons, the Goldwater Institute initially represented then-Secretary of State Michele Reagan in seeking to intervene in the lawsuit.

But there was another wrinkle, as well: when the Legacy Foundation—the non-profit that the Commission claimed was violating campaign finance regulations—argued that the Commission had no authority over it, the Commission held a special hearing before an Administrative Law Judge to determine the matter. That judge ruled in Legacy Foundation’s favor, determining that the Commission lacked authority. Nevertheless, Arizona law allows the Commission to simply override an Administrative Law Judge’s ruling if the Commission doesn’t like it—and that’s just what the Commission did. Setting aside the judge’s ruling, it declared that it did have that authority after all. Worse, when Legacy Foundation tried to challenge that in court, Arizona judges ruled that it was too late—the question had already been settled (a principle lawyers call res judicata).

Legacy appealed that ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court, arguing that to allow the Commission to simply nullify rulings against it, and declare itself the winner even after losing at the hearing, violates the principles of due process. The Goldwater Institute filed two friend of the court briefs in support of the Foundation.

Case Logistics

Plaintiffs

Legacy Foundation Action Fund

 

Defendant

Citizens Clean Elections Commission

 

Intervenor

Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan

 

Court

Maricopa County Superior Court

 

Judge

Hon. Crane McClennen

 

Relief sought

The Secretary of State and the Goldwater Institute are asking the court to declare that the Citizens Clean Elections Commission does not have authority over independent expenditures and to therefore dismiss the complaint against Legacy Foundation Action Fund.

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