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sys­tem for can­di­dates and en­forces fi­nan­cial re­port­ing rules.

SB 1516 sig­nif­i­cantly shrunk the com­mis­sion’s power so that it only could po­lice can­di­dates who re­ceive pub­lic fi­nanc­ing.

The Ari­zona Ad­vo­cacy Net­work (an open-elec­tions watch­dog group), Democrats and the com­mis­sion chal­lenged the law in court, ar­gu­ing it il­le­gally gut­ted the mean­ing of the act.

Palmer, in his rul­ing, agreed: “The com­mis­sion and the plain­tiffs are cor­rect.”

At­tor­ney Jim Bar­ton, who ar­gued against SB 1516, said the rul­ing is a vic­tory for trans­parency in elec­tions.

He said the Clean Elec­tions Com­mis­sion has shown it is more will­ing to en­force rules than state elec­tions of­fi­cials are.

“It’s very clear that that watch­dog isn’t go­ing to be re­strained,” Bar­ton said Thurs­day.

Joel Ed­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ari­zona Ad­vo­cacy Net­work, cheered the rul­ing in an email: “As Ari­zo­nans, we know Clean Elec­tions is the best tool we have to fight cor­rup­tion, dark money, and un­due cor­po­rate in­flu­ence.”

Sec­re­tary of State Michele Rea­gan, the state’s top elec­tions of­fi­cial, was a key ar­chi­tect of the law. While an ap­peal is likely, her of­fice hasn’t com­mented in de­tail.

“We’re tak­ing a look and de­ter­min­ing next steps,” spokesman Matt Roberts said in a text mes­sage.

Rul­ing also im­pacts party spend­ing

Palmer’s rul­ing also over­turned a con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion of SB 1516 that al­lowed po­lit­i­cal par­ties to spend un­lim­ited amounts of money in co­or­di­na­tion with can­di­date cam­paigns.

That loop­hole played a key role in this year’s elec­tions, with Repub­li­cans spend­ing mil­lions in co­or­di­na­tion with Ducey and the Demo­cratic Party do­ing the same with Sec­re­tary of State-elect Katie Hobbs.

Un­der the 2016 law, the par­ties didn’t have to dis­close how much was spent on be­half of each can­di­date, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to track their spend­ing.

Bar­ton said the rul­ing will change that be­cause money a party spends in co­or­di­na­tion with a can­di­date’s cam­paign will once again fall un­der tra­di­tional lim­its for in-kind ex­pen­di­tures.

Im­pacts to some un­lim­ited do­na­tions

The rul­ing also strikes down a por­tion of SB 1516 that al­lowed un­lim­ited con­tri­bu­tions if they specif­i­cally paid for a cam­paign’s le­gal or ac­count­ing ser­vices.

Palmer ruled that the dis­puted por­tions of the act vi­o­lated a por­tion of the Ari­zona Con­sti­tu­tion that pro­hibits changes to voter-ap­proved ini­tia­tives un­less the changes are sup­ported by three-fourths of the Leg­is­la­ture and fur­ther the pur­pose of the act.

“One can­not de­ter­mine in this case, given the pur­poses be­hind the (Clean Elec­tions Act), that vot­ers in­tended that the Leg­is­la­ture would in essence erad­i­cate the very core of the act,” he wrote.

How­ever, the rul­ing didn’t undo a por­tion of SB 1516 that largely ceded Ari­zona’s au­thor­ity to po­lice anony­mous cam­paign spend­ing, or so-called “dark money,” to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

That le­gal­ity of that por­tion of the law wasn’t ad­dressed in Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing.

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