PHOENIX - Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne was ordered Thursday to return nearly $400,000 to donors and amend his campaign finance reports after a prosecutor found there's evidence he violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 run for office.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a statement that she would also seek stiff civil penalties amounting to three times the amount if Horne, former aide Kathleen Winn, his campaign and an outside group Winn ran do not comply with her order within 20 days.
The announcement marks the second time a prosecutor alleged Horne violated campaign laws by illegally coordinating activities with the outside group during his 2010 election bid. Horne's lawyers sidetracked the earlier civil action by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery by arguing the Secretary of State's office followed the wrong procedure when it referred the case to Montgomery.
Montgomery last year also ordered Horne to refund the contributions and amend his campaign finance reports. After it was returned to the secretary of state, it went to Horne's office, which sent it to Polk.
Polk found reasonable cause to believe Horne and Winn worked together to raise about $500,000 through the group she chaired, Business Leaders for Arizona.
Horne and Winn have denied the allegations.
"This case will proceed to a hearing and it will be proven there was no coordination," Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
"We're disappointed they've decided to proceed," said Timothy La Sota, Winn's attorney. "We think the case if based on speculation and conjecture."
LaSota also noted that he believes the campaign finance laws Polk's order relies upon are unconstitutional, and they will be contesting the case.
"We disagree with the factual allegations completely," LaSota said.
Horne, a Republican, is the state's top law enforcement officer. He defeated Democrat Felecia Rotellini, a former prosecutor and bank regulator, by approximately 63,000 votes out of a total of 1.6 million ballots cast in the 2010 general election for attorney general.
The pair could face a rematch next year, and Horne's legal problems are likely to become a major political issue. Horne must first turn back a primary challenge from former Department of Gaming director Mark Brnovich.
Horne pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge in May. The case was filed after FBI agents apparently trailing him in the campaign finance case saw him back into a parked SUV while driving a borrowed car.
The State Bar, which oversees lawyer licensing, was investigating Horne over allegations stemming from the alleged campaign finance violations but dropped them after a judge blocked Montgomery's actions. The Bar said the case could be reopened once the civil case concludes.
Facing a tough election challenge in 2010, Horne and Winn allegedly worked together to raise money for the outside group she headed to pay for negative ads targeting Rotellini.
Winn has been attempting to have the campaign contribution limits that allegedly prompted the illegal fundraising thrown out as unconstitutionally low. A Maricopa County judge ruled last week that because no civil case was pending, the case was premature.