Embattled Attorney General Tom Horne fights back against allegations, critics

PHOENIX - From the beginning, it was clear. In her very first meeting with staff members from Attorney General Tom Horne’s office, Sarah Beattie was being hired to work on Horne’s re-election campaign.

“Early on I realized she wanted me to do campaign work while working during official State hours,” Beattie wrote, in a sworn affidavit filed with the Secretary of State’s office this week. 

“She” was Kathleen Winn, a former Horne political consultant hired to work as his Community Outreach director in the Attorney General’s office. Beattie’s 15-page testimony lays out a case for several members of Horne’s staff, using state government time and resources to further his campaign.  The allegations, if true, would be a violation of state law, and could do further damage to Horne’s embattled bid to seek another four year term.

On Thursday, Horne fired back. In a one-on-one interview with ABC15, Horne painted Beattie as emotionally unstable, a disgruntled former employee with a history of turning on her bosses on the way out the door. “At an offsite campaign meeting Sarah Beattie went into a crying fit because her hours were being cut because we weren't letting her do campaign work on state time and she was bitter about that,” Horne said.

The state’s top law enforcement official strongly denied breaking the law himself, and said he had five witnesses willing to testify on his behalf about Beattie’s emotional state.

It was a stark contrast to her work record. 

Within three months, Beattie said, she had ascended from an entry-level administrative assistant – a position paying $32,000 a year – to a new position making $45,000 a year. On Thursday, Horne acknowledged he had signed off on two raises and quickly promoted Beattie.  “She was doing a good job, and she was doing a good job on my campaign after work.”

Beattie contends the campaign was her work. Her affidavit contains more than a dozen e-mails , all exchanged between private accounts, which appear to show top-level staff members in the Attorney General’s office conducting campaign business during normal working hours, and taking steps to keep that work a secret. 

Horne confirms some of his top-level staff members are also key players in his campaign. Among them, Margaret Dugan, Horne’s chief of staff in the Attorney General’s office, and his unpaid campaign manager.  Horne told ABC 15, there are no blurred lines between state business and campaign business. “Of all people Margaret is very strict about that.  If you're going to talk about the campaign, go across the street,” he said. 

Horne does admit Kathleen Winn used a state-owned vehicle to travel to a campaign event. He said it was a short trip and Winn reimbursed the state ten dollars for mileage. He said he could not recall whether Beattie state office phone number had been distributed to potential donors to his campaign. “I believe it was her personal cell phone,” he said.

Horne also lashed out at some of the critics within his own party. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk released a statement Wednesday saying she planned to pursue a case of campaign finance law violations, stemming from Horne’s 2010 campaign.

An FBI investigation found cause that Horne and Winn had been in contact with Business Leaders of America, a conservative group not associated with Horne’s campaign, concerning TV ads the group had been running against Horne’s Democratic opponent, Felicia Rotellini.

In February an administrative law judge ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude Horne had violated the law. That ruling is non-binding, and Polk, a fellow Republican, can still legally pursue the case.

Horne accused Polk of ignoring the ruling of a fair and impartial judge, and said politics were at play in the harsh criticism he’s received from Polk, and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

“There's a certain amount of ambition and political competition involved,” Horne said.

Montgomery, a one-time Horne supporter, told ABC15 Horne should walk away from office.

“This is someone who has a very bizarre understanding of reality and can't be counted on to fairly carry out the duties and responsibilities of that office,” Montgomery said. “I don't think he should run for re-election."

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