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1:24 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

Judge gives GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bennett 4 more hours to qualify for campaign funds

PHOENIX -- Ken Bennett got four more hours to gather more donations to qualify for public funding for his gubernatorial campaign.

Ruling from the bench, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes said Monday it clearly came as a surprise to everyone -- including the state elections director -- that the website which allows for online donations shut down automatically at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21. She said the expectation was that the GOP gubernatorial hopeful would have until midnight.

"I think it's clear that everyone was surprised by what appears to be to be a programming oversight,'' the judge said.

The result, said Bennett, is that supporters who he was counting on to get him the 4,000 $5 donations he needs found themselves locked out. And by the time state Elections Director Eric Spencer had the site brought back, Bennett told the judge, it was too late to start calling people and getting them out of bed.

That left Bennett about 50 short of the minimum which were due last week.

So Contes directed Secretary of State Michele Reagan to reopen the online portal at 5 p.m. on Monday for four hours -- the amount of time the portal was closed last week. That gave time for Bennett to notify supporters that if they didn't get to give last week they have one more chance to get online and make the donation.

At one point Spencer sought to blame Bennett for the problem.

He said that it was during Bennett's tenure as secretary of state -- he served from 2009 through 2014 -- that the programming on the website was changed to have it go dark at 5 p.m. the day of the deadline.

Bennett said he was unaware that was part of the programming but said he would have fixed it had anyone brought it to his attention. And he said it was up to Reagan, as his successor, to reprogram the site ahead of every election.

Contes brushed aside the finger-pointing.

"Those things happen,'' she said. "I'm not finding anything malicious about it.''

That, however, still left Bennett short of signatures.

"It seems that a correction is appropriate to remedy the shorting of a period of time that may affect only this candidate,'' Contes said.

None of this will affect the outcome of the primary election.

Even if Bennett can reach the 4,000 mark, the donations still need to be verified before he gets a check for $839,704. And that could take a week, meaning there is no way he will have the money in his bid to defeat incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

But Bennett told the judge that, if nothing else, he could use some of that money to repay the $43,000 he loan his campaign.

And if Bennett actually defeats Ducey in the GOP primary, he would get another $1.2 million to run against whoever the Democrats choose in their primary, plus any Libertarian or Green party candidates who are running as write-ins if they get enough votes.

Contes acknowledged that Bennett, who represented himself in court, did not follow all the legal procedures for serving a copy of the complaint on both Reagan's office and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

But she said Bennett appeared to be following directions he was given by the bailiff of another judge.

And Contes said that the failures did not hamper the ability of the defendants to mount their claim.

Reagan chose not to appeal.