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Updated Oct 25, 2013 - 3:18 pm

Court: Lower Arizona contributions limits remain

PHOENIX -- A new Arizona law allowing people to contribute more money to candidates for statewide office is on hold amid a legal challenge.

In the meantime, the old limits on campaign contributions remain in place, a state Court of Appeals said in an opinion Thursday. The appeals court is also sending the case back to a trial judge to consider legal issues the judge's initial ruling didn't cover.

A lawsuit by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the panel that oversees the state's public campaign finance system, is challenging the higher limits approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year. The judge last month rejected the commission's request to put the higher limits on hold pending a decision on the lawsuit.

However, the Court of Appeals in an Oct. 15 order blocked the higher limits. The appeals court's opinion issued Thursday keeps that order in place while explaining what it wants done next.

The court said the commission raised ``serious questions'' about the constitutionality of the 2013 law.

It said it sent the case back to the trial judge because that judge apparently didn't adequately consider possible First Amendment issues involving restrictions on campaign contributions.

``We emphasize, however, that we have reached no opinion as to the ultimate resolution of the parties' arguments regarding the constitutionality of the ... limits under the Arizona Constitution and the First Amendment,'' Judge Patricia Norris wrote for a three-judge panel.

Under the new limits, the amount an individual would be able to contribute per election cycle to a legislative candidate would rise to $4,000 from $390.

The commission's lawsuit argues that the legislation violated a constitutional protection for voter-approved laws.

A 1998 voter-approved law creating the public campaign finance system included limits on private campaign contributions to candidates for state offices.

Also in 1998, Arizona voters approved restrictions on the Legislature's authority to change voter-approved laws without submitting the proposed changes to voters.

Republicans called the existing contribution limits too low and said the voter-protection law didn't bar lawmakers from changing the limits.

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