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Campaign Finance Update: AZ AG to Cease Enforcement of Trigger Reports

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For all you eggheads who like to stay on top of the latest/greatest in campaign finance law, this just in: Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says he'll no longer enforce the state law that requires self-funded candidates to make special funding reports.

Those so-called "millionaire candidates," whose campaign funding comes from their own pocketbooks, will still have to file the usual finance reports with the Secretary of State's Office. But under Arizona law, they also used to have to file special reports any time they reached certain expense levels -- and, by doing so, eased the limits on what their opponents could collect from donors.

For example. If some wealthy dude -- we'll call him H. Ross Perot -- decided to run for the Legislature, Perot would be allowed to spend as much as he wanted promoting his candidacy. But, under Arizona law, if Perot spent $16,330 or more, he'd have to file a special report. At that point, his opponents would get a special perk to even the playing field: their wealthy donors would be released from the usual $410 contribution limit and allowed to thousands to anyone running against Perot.

Not anymore.

In a landmark precedent last summer, Davis v. FEC, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Minnesota as unconstitutional, saying such a leveling of the playing field "chilled" the hypothetical Perot's rights to free speech. That decision opened the door for a Goldwater Institute lawsuit challenging Arizona's Clean Elections Law, which is still ongoing.

But Nick Dranias, the lawyer leading the Goldwater Clean Elections challenge, realized that the law requiring self-funded candidates to file "trigger" reports directly mirrored the law that Davis struck down. He wrote a letter to Attorney General Goddard in March, asking him to "permanently cease and desist enforcement" of the reporting requirement.

In a brief response dated April 21, Goddard's office agreed to do just that.

Anne Hilby, a spokeswoman for Goddard, said the Davis decision was overwhelmingly clear. "The notification requirement will no longer be enforced," she said.

Dranias praised the decision. "If they didn't agree to cease and desist, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel," he said. "That would be an easy lawsuit for anyone. They did the right thing here."

But, as Dranias acknowledges, the Davis decision does lead to a weird legal standard. "If you're rich, you can spend anything you want on your campaign," he said. "But the court is now saying that if you're not rich, you can't ask your friends to spend all their money to support you. 

"To me, it's just absurd," he continues. "The solution wasn't to take away the free speech rights for both of them -- it's to remove the impediments for both." Spoken like a true libertarian, right?

We'll see if this brings any change to the electoral landscape this fall. By then, of course, we'll likely have a verdict in the Clean Elections challenge, though -- and that's sure to mean even bigger news.  

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