Arizona

Jun 20, 2013 6:59 PM by Associated Press

Horne aide: Toss campaign contribution limits

PHOENIX (AP) - An aide to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is suing the state for what her lawyers call unconstitutionally low campaign finance limits.

Kathleen Winn's lawsuit asks a Maricopa County judge to declare the state's limits so low that they violate the First Amendment's free speech guarantee.

Winn and Horne have been fighting allegations that they illegally coordinated efforts during Horne's 2010 election campaign. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery filed a civil case against them in October, but a judge ruled last month that Secretary of State Ken Bennett should have sent the case to Horne for review under existing law even though a clear conflict of interest exists. The pair raised the low campaign limits in that challenge, but the judge didn't rule on that issue.

Both Bennett and Horne are Republicans.

The Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer have now stepped in, with Brewer signing a bill into law Wednesday allowing Bennett to send the case back to Montgomery. Bennett spokesman Matt Roberts said they still intend to send the case back to Horne, at least until the Department of Justice approves the election law changes and they take effect.

If Winn's lawsuit is successful, the case against Horne and Winn would be voided, attorney Timothy La Sota wrote in the lawsuit.

The suit, first reported by the Arizona Republic, cites a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that limits set too low can crimp free speech rights.

Individual contributors to Horne's campaign were limited to $840, so low it prevented him from countering ads attacking him from an independent group supporting Democrat Felicia Rotellini, which spent $1.5 million, La Sota wrote. He compared that to two cases where limits were found unconstitutional and said Arizona's were one-twelfth and one-quarter as large.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill in April raising the limits to $2,500 from individual donors and $5,000 from some political committees.

Montgomery filed a civil action in October demanding Horne's 2010 campaign and Winn's Business Leaders for Arizona return up to $513,000 in contributions. He also said he planned to seek significant civil fines.

Candidates cannot discuss strategy or other matters with so-called independent expenditure committees. But there's evidence that Horne was involved in both raising money and deciding how to spend it on advertising by Business Leaders for Arizona, Montgomery said when he announced he was pursuing the case.

Horne has denied any coordination.

"Whether or not we agree or disagree with the constitutionality of campaign finance limits, our office is tasked with enforcing the law," Roberts, the secretary of state's spokesman, said Thursday.

Horne defeated Democrat Rotellini, a former prosecutor and bank regulator, by approximately 63,000 votes out of a total of 1.6 million ballots cast in the 2010 general election for attorney general.

Horne pleaded no contest last month in a misdemeanor hit-and-run case that came to light as FBI agents trailed him while apparently investigating the campaign finance case.

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