Arizona AG Horne faces new bump in re-election try

PHOENIX - Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne can't seem to get a break.

Fresh off a win in a case where he was tentatively cleared of campaign finance violations during his 2010 election bid, he's facing new accusations that he's playing fast and loose with campaign rules.

The new allegations are from a staffer who recently quit Horne's office and accuses the Republican attorney general of using his office's staffers as campaign workers. The staffer's lawyer, Tom Ryan, sent a letter to Horne demanding that he retain all electronic and other records for possible use in a new campaign-finance complaint.

The new claims come just as Horne is gearing up for re-election and are just the latest in a string of negative news for him. Horne faces a challenger in August's Republican primary and a Democratic challenger if he advances to the general election.

The latest accusations could give ammunition to those challengers during the campaign, if they are handled correctly.

"There's just no question that if the word gets out about all of these activities that it's going to hurt him significantly," said Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University political science professor who has extensive polling experience. "It's going to depend on how effectively his opponents can use this and get that message out so more people know about it."

Former Horne staffer Sarah Beattie says that a "substantial portion of the executive office of the attorney general for the state of Arizona is involved in substantial campaigning for your 2014 re-election while on state time and utilizing state resources," according to a May 5 letter from Ryan to Horne.

In an extensive interview last week with the Arizona Capitol Times, Beattie said she and other staffers were hired specifically to do campaign work. "I was put under an official position, but it was voiced to me several times that I was there for campaigning reasons," Beattie told the newspaper.

Ryan said he was preparing an official complaint to the Secretary of State's office and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

A call to Horne seeking comment on Friday was answered by his office's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham.

"We're not to pontificate about what she's saying in the press," Grisham said. "We're going to wait until these claims are filed and respond appropriately at that time."

Such allegations are difficult to prove, as the result of the Yavapai County Attorney's Office complaint from the 2010 race shows. In that case, Horne was accused of illegally coordinating the expenditures and messaging of a group called Business Leaders for Arizona, run by Horne staffer Kathleen Winn.

An administrative law judge who heard a mini-trial in February ruled last month that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk had not proven Horne and Winn broke campaign laws.

Polk, however, isn't bound by the judge's ruling and must decide by Wednesday whether to reinstate her findings and her demand that Horne repay $400,000 to donors and up to three times that amount in civil fines.

That case also involved other intrigue, with FBI agents following Horne during an investigation; concluding that he was having a noontime tryst with a woman who is not his wife; and leaving the scene of a parking-lot accident without leaving a note.

Horne cleared the hit-and-run case in May 2013 by pleading no contest, and the possible end of the campaign-finance case could clear all sorts of baggage as Horne faces a challenger in the Republican primary.

That challenger, Mark Brnovich, said Friday that the latest revelations are just another reason for Horne to step down.

"Even (President Richard) Nixon knew when it was time to resign," Brnovich said. "Tom Horne has created a culture of corruption within the attorney general's office. My first priority will be to restore integrity and character to that office."

If Horne wins the primary, he'll likely face the same Democrat he narrowly defeated in 2010: Felecia Rotellini, a former prosecutor and bank regulator.

Merrill said the ammunition from the string of Horne issues is good fodder for an attack that could put his re-election at risk.

"And where it may hurt him ... is really in fundraising," Merrill said. "If it looks like he's got these kind of problems and he's vulnerable and is going to attacked on these things, it may be a lot harder to get people to give him money once all these things have been brought out in public."

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