Lisa Hauser, an attorney for Governor Jan Brewer, blasted Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission after its members refused to take further action on matching funds for this year's election cycle.
In a tense, two-minute speech, Hauser blasted the commission for "turning your backs on participating candidates." She also questioned the commission's compliance with open-meetings laws and pointedly asked why it had received legal advice behind closed doors from the Attorney General's Office -- when Attorney General Terry Goddard is himself running against Brewer.
Hauser had been asking the commission to take steps to allow participating candidates to raise private funds on top of the public funds they receive from Clean Elections, or, short of that, to ask U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver to clarify her ruling on whether such private funds would be permissible.
But, after an hour-long executive session, the commission declined to take action, with members saying they believe their hands are tied.
At issue are "matching funds," which, under Arizona's Clean Elections' system, are given to publicly funded candidates who face wealthy opponents to "level the playing field." The funds have been under legal attack by the Goldwater Institute for more than two years, and Judge Silver ruled earlier this year that they're unconstitutional.
An appellate court disagreed. But, tast week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the commission not to release matching funds until it can hear a legal challenge.
That will almost certainly not happen until after the 2010 elections, leading Brewer to ask the commission for relief -- specifically, the opportunity to raise matching funds on her own.
The commission refused to do so at a meeting last week, saying it needed to consult its attorneys. Today, members huddled with an assistant attorney general for close to an hour before reconvening and publicly announcing they would not take action.
"Mr. Chairman, we've spent a lot of time here deliberating and debating what to do," said Commissioner Lori Daniels. "But it seems like the courts were somewhat clear." She suggested if candidates want more direction, they should seek it on their own. "It would be somewhat contradicting ourselves if we were to take this action. My feeling is, we shouldn't do it."
Added Commissioner Royann Parker, "I do hope the candidates pursue their attempts to get the relief they need."
Hauser was extremely displeased.
"Ms. Daniels, you said you debated and discussed in executive session, which is extremely inappropriate," she said, also questioning the role of attorneys who work for Attorney General Goddard. (Commission members defended both actions, saying that the law allows them to discuss legal strategy in private and also that the assistant attorney general has not consulted with Goddard or his political appointees.)
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"You have basically punted to the candidates," Hauser said. "When push comes to shove, you have abdicated your responsibilities to go back to that court. I am extremely disapponited if not disgusted by the route you have taken here today."
Noting that the Clean Elections Commission could be in dire trouble if the Supreme Court ultimately finds that matching funds are unconstitutional, Hauser added, "It would have been better if you went out with your heads held high. Which you did not do today."
Hauser indicated to the commissioners that it may be harder for candidates like Brewer to intervene at this point and get the clarification and changes she's seeking. After the meeting, she told New Times that she'd need to discuss the next step with her client before taking action.