Clean Elections Commission decides Arizona AG Horne may have violated law; full probe launched

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PHOENIX — The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission on Thursday said there's reason to believe Attorney General Tom Horne broke elections laws by using his staff to work on his re-election campaign, and authorized a full investigation that could lead to an order to repay more than $312,000 to the state.

The 4-0 commission vote Thursday lets Executive Director Tom Collins collect evidence using subpoenas and interview witnesses. If the commission ultimately determines Horne broke the law, it could also levy large fines.

Horne denies the allegations brought by former staffer Sarah Beattie and can now rebut evidence, repay the money or negotiate a settlement. His attorney asked the commission to hold a full hearing before making any decision, and it agreed.

Beattie filed a complaint in May saying she was essentially hired to work on Horne's campaign and others in Horne's office also did substantial campaign work. Horne provided statements from 11 other employees rebutting her statement that they illegally worked on his campaign on state time.

Collins wrote in a memo to commissioners that documents Beattie provided show that "by August 2013, the Horne Campaign was setting up a parallel organizational structure where the responsibilities of campaign staff reflected the Executive Office of the Attorney General's Office." Essentially, he was running his now-failed re-election campaign using state workers and state offices, Collins said.

Horne attorney Dennis Wilenchik tried to persuade commissioners to only allow an investigation into Beattie's own action while employed by Horne's office, to no avail.

"I do think you should seriously question this, because you've 11 witnesses that are very clear, that will go under oath if you want them to," Wilenchik said. "You have to consider that strongly ... when you're going after a sitting attorney general."

Horne lost to Mark Brnovich in August's Republican primary. Brnovich will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November's general election.

Collins came up with the $312,000 figure by pro-rating the salaries of the state employees who volunteered for Horne's campaign for eight months.

The Maricopa County attorney is also investigating Beattie's complaint. Horne sued to block that probe, arguing that County Attorney Bill Montgomery was a political opponent, but a judge last month refused to stop the investigation. Horne has since dropped the case.

Horne is also appealing a decision by the Yavapai County attorney that he violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 election bid by coordinating campaign strategy with an outside group run by an aide. He also pleaded no contest in 2013 to a hit-and-run accident that was witnessed by FBI agents tailing him during that investigation.

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