PHOENIX - Arizona's secretary of state on Wednesday said that there is reasonable cause to believe Attorney General Tom Horne violated state election laws by using his staff to work on his re-election campaign and a full investigation is merited.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office also said state officials should launch a separate probe into allegations that some of Horne's staffers were improperly paid by the state while actually doing work for Horne's campaign.
The notice signed by Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake to Horne's solicitor general, Robert Ellman, said there was evidence to believe allegations from a former Horne staffer about illegal campaign activity inside Horne's office.
The secretary of state's decision comes nearly three weeks after the Citizens Clean Elections Commission authorized a separate investigation into the same issue. The commission could order Horne removed from office.
The two investigations add to Horne's legal and political problems as he seeks a second term as the state's top law enforcement official.
An eight-page letter from state Election Director Christina Estes-Werther accompanying Wednesday's decision detailed former staffer Sarah Beattie's allegations and Horne's written responses, noting the Republican attorney general's explanations in many cases were either admissions, understatements about wrongdoing or denials that were contradicted. She said there was cause to believe Horne broke the law by failing to report his staffers' in-kind contributions on his campaign finance reports and recommended the launching of a civil-enforcement action that could lead to fines.
Horne has denied violating election laws and said Beattie isn't credible. He issued a statement through spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham saying Beattie has a history of making claims when she leaves employers and should not be believed.
"I have filed 11 witness statements indicating there is nothing to these allegations," the statement said. "I therefore look forward to this investigation being a complete vindication."
Beattie's complaint in May said that top executive staff in Horne's office did fundraising, campaign planning meetings and other campaign activities while on state time. Horne has said some of his employees do campaign work on their own time at the office but that significant work is done off-site. He also said employees are expected to put in 40 hours a week for the state, and many put in more hours.
Horne also said he had terminated an internal investigation he commissioned, saying there was no need to have two investigations into the same issue.
On Wednesday evening, Ellman appointed retired Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Daniel A. Barker and Gilbert Town Attorney J. Michael Hamblin to investigate the case and determine if an enforcement order should be issued requiring Horne to amend his campaign finance reports. Speaking for the solicitor general, Grisham said Ellman thought both were thoroughly vetted, non-political and "beyond reproach."
Horne is suing to block the clean elections investigation, saying the commission doesn't have the authority to enforce election laws for candidates not participating in Arizona's public campaign financing system.
He already is appealing a finding by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he and a top aide illegally coordinated spending by an outside group supporting his 2010 election bid.
Horne faces a Republican challenger in August's primary election, Mark Brnovich, who has called on Horne to drop out and said he "created a culture of corruption within the attorney general's office."
If Horne beats Brnovich, he will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November in a rematch of the 2010 election matchup. Horne edged Rotellini by about 4 percent of the votes cast.