Horne wants judge to halt Clean Elections inquiry

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- Lawyers for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne urged a judge on Monday to block an investigation of an election-law complaint by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, saying the commission lacks the authority to scrutinize his re-election campaign because he's not using public funding.

An election law giving the commission enforcement authority doesn't extend to candidates who are privately funded, attorney Tim La Sota told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dawn Bergin.

"The critical question is what did the voters intend" when they passed the Clean Elections Act in 1998, La Sota said. He argued the commission only was authorized to investigate candidates that take public financing. If that wasn't clear enough, La Sota said, the Legislature passed a law this year that specifically said the commission can't go after traditionally funded candidates.

But lawyers for the commission disagree, arguing the law is clear that all candidates for office can be penalized by the panel.

"The issue is whether the commission has jurisdiction over non-participating candidates," commission lawyer Joseph Kanefield said. "I think we've pretty clearly established that the commission absolutely does have jurisdiction."

Bergin sharply questioned Horne's attorney on that point, pointing to the same section of law the commission did and asking how it does not back the commission's position. She said after Monday's hearing that she would try to rule quickly.

Horne sued last month to stop an investigation of an election law complaint filed by a former staffer. He's seeking a permanent injunction blocking the inquiry.

The commission voted in June to investigate Horne after the staffer alleged the attorney general used his executive staff to work on his re-election campaign in violation of election laws. A separate investigation into the same matter was initiated by the secretary of state's office last month and is being conducted by a retired appeals court judge and Gilbert's town attorney.

Horne denies illegally using his staff to do campaign work.

He has been saddled by a series of legal and political problems as he seeks a second term as the state's top law enforcement official. The Republican 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, 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.

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