Arizona Bar drops campaign charge against Horne

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The State Bar of Arizona has temporarily dropped a campaign finance violation charge against Attorney General Tom Horne, but vowed to revisit the investigation once a civil case dealing with the allegation is resolved.

The stalled proceedings signal more good news for Horne, the state's top law enforcement elected official. Last month, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge blocked the civil campaign finance violation case, saying it was improperly brought by the county attorney's office and Arizona's top elections chief. It's expected that Secretary of State Ken Bennett will still pursue the case.

Maret Vessella, the bar's chief counsel, did not explain the decision to drop the charge in a letter to Horne's attorney last month.

"We will dismiss our concurrent proceeding to await a final outcome of any future case relating to the alleged campaign finance violations and revisit our investigation at that time," the letter states. "This matter may be reopened at any time prior to that should the State Bar discover that there is evidence of a violation that would require immediate pursuit."

Horne and aide Kathleen Winn have been accused of illegally coordinating outside campaign spending for Horne during his 2010 campaign.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery filed a civil action in October demanding Horne's 2010 campaign and Business Leaders for Arizona return up to $513,000 in contributions. He also said he planned to seek significant civil fines.

Candidates cannot discuss strategy or other matters with so-called independent expenditure committees. But there's evidence that Horne was involved in both raising money and deciding how to spend it on advertising by Business Leaders for Arizona, Montgomery said when he announced he was pursuing the case.

Horne has denied any coordination. His spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.

Horne 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.

Horne pleaded no contest last month in a misdemeanor hit-and-run case that came to light as FBI agents trailed him while apparently investigating the campaign finance case.

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