Leach v. Reagan – 12/6/2018

February 7, 2019

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a person may not sue to invalidate a ballot initiative based on an allegation that the contents of a political action committee’s “statement of organization” failed to comply with A.R.S. § 16-906, and a person may sue based on the validity of any petition signatures, not just those included in the random sample used by the Secretary of State to determine the total number of valid signatures.

A political action committee proposed a ballot initiative and two pre-election challenges were filed in an effort to prevent the initiative from appearing on the ballot.  The Arizona Supreme Court rejected both challenges and allowed the measure to appear on the ballot. 

The first challenge argued that the statement of organization filed by the committee was deficient because it failed to identify a sponsor as required by A.R.S. § 16-906(B).  The superior court concluded, and the Supreme Court agreed, that no private right of action exists to challenge the completeness of a political action committee’s statement of organization.  The plaintiffs asserted that their challenge arose under § 19-122(C), which authorizes a challenge to the validity of an initiative or referendum based on the actions of the secretary of state or compliance with Title 19, chapter one.  The Court found that § 19-122(C) did not authorize the plaintiffs to challenge the committee’s compliance with § 16-906(B), reasoning that the contents of a “statement of organization” are governed by Title 16, not Title 19, and Title 16 includes its own procedures for investigation and enforcement against invalid or non-compliant statements.

The Court also addressed whether plaintiffs could challenge any petition signature submitted by the committee or were limited to challenging those signatures within the five-percent random sample sent to county recorders by the secretary of state.  The secretary uses this random sample to establish a validity rate, which is then applied to the total number of signatures to determine the total number of valid signatures.  The Court concluded that § 19-122(C) authorizes a person to challenge petition signatures outside the secretary’s random sample.

Justice Timmer authored the opinion, which was joined by Chief Justice Bales, Vice Chief Justice Brutinel, and Justice Pelander. 

Chief Justice Bales and Justice Pelander filed concurring opinions discussing the importance and enforcement of § 16-906(B)’s requirement that a political action committee identify sponsors. 

Justice Gould, joined by Justices Bolick and Lopez, filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.  Justice Gould would have allowed plaintiffs’ challenge to the committee’s failure to list its sponsor on its organizational statement and would have invalidated the initiative for the committee’s failure to disclose a sponsor.