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1:38 AM Wed, Sept. 26th

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bennett goes to court in effort to get public money

Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett delivers a summons late Friday to Kari Benz at the Secretary of State's Office for a hearing Monday on his attempt to get more time to get $5 donations to qualify for public funding for his campaign. (Howard Fischer/Courtesy)

Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett delivers a summons late Friday to Kari Benz at the Secretary of State's Office for a hearing Monday on his attempt to get more time to get $5 donations to qualify for public funding for his campaign. (Howard Fischer/Courtesy)

PHOENIX — Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is asking a judge to give him one last chance to qualify for public funding for his campaign.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that the Secretary of State's Office shut down the online portal for people to make $5 donations that would entitle him to $839,704 in his bid to be the Republican nominee at 5 p.m. Tuesday. But he said Arizona law set the deadline for donations at midnight that night.

Bennett said he already has 3,995 donations. And he contends that he would have had the minimum 4,000 -- and more -- if the web site had not gone dark.

Representing himself, Bennett wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes to direct the site to be reopened for at least four hours. He told Capitol Media Services that will give campaign volunteers a chance to contact people who had said they would have given but for problems with the portal.

And he wants Contes to order the Citizens Clean Elections Commission which administers the public funding to accept these late donations even though they come after the deadline.

A hearing is set for Monday morning.

Matt Benson, spokesman for Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said he does not know whether she will oppose what Bennett, himself a former secretary of state, is demanding.

"The lawyers will decide that over the weekend,'' he said.

But Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the extra time Bennett wants is contrary to the law.

Bennett acknowledged that by the time he gets a final ruling -- especially if there is an appeal of whatever Contes decides -- Tuesday's primary election will be over. That means even if he gets his $5 donations and qualifies for the money it is too late for him to spend it in his bid for the nomination.

But Bennett said there still are reasons to pursue the case.

First, if Bennett defeats incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey, qualifying for public funding would entitle him to another $1.2 million for the general election campaign. And even if he loses, Bennett said the money could be used to repay him the $43,000 he loaned his campaign.

Bennett said he will produce at least one witness who will tell Contes of his inability to make a donation after 5 p.m. on Tuesday even though the site should have remained online until midnight.

Roberts acknowledged the portal did go dark at 5 p.m. but said that was the result of programming done under the administration of the prior secretary of state -- meaning Bennett.

Bennett said that may very well be true, saying he was the one who first made online donations for public funding available. But he said it was up to Reagan and her staff to keep pace with changes in technology.

Roberts also said the site was reopened several hours later after Bennett complained.