Clean Elections chief: Horne broke campaign law

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX (AP) -- The executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission said Tuesday that Attorney General Tom Horne should repay the state more than $312,000 for using his offices and executive staff to work on his failed re-election campaign.

Tom Collins told the five-member commission in a memo there's enough evidence to believe Horne broke elections laws and asked commissioners to adopt his recommendation at their Thursday meeting.

Former Horne staffer Sarah Beattie filed a complaint in May saying she was essentially hired to work on Horne's campaign and that others in Horne's office also did substantial campaign work. Collins reviewed documents Beattie provided, reviewed Horne's response and made public records requests, some of which have not been fulfilled by Horne's staff, before making his recommendation.

Horne denies the allegations. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the commission adopts the recommendation, Horne has the chance to explain why Collins was wrong, repay the money or negotiate a settlement. The commission may initiate enforcement action if the case isn't settled. That could include civil penalties and at worst the removal of Horne from office.

Horne lost to Mark Brnovich in August's Republican primary after being dogged by multiple allegations of campaign finance violations for the past several years. Brnovich will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November's general election.

Horne is appealing a decision by the Yavapai County attorney that he violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 election bid by coordinating campaign strategy with an outside group run by an aide. He also pleaded no contest in 2013 to a hit-and-run accident that was witnessed by FBI agents tailing him during that investigation.

Beattie's allegations are also being investigated by a retired appeals court judge and Gilbert's town attorney. That probe was initiated after the secretary of state requested an investigation.

In his recommendation memo to the commission, Collins wrote that documents Beattie provided show that "by August 2013, the Horne Campaign was setting up a parallel organizational structure where the responsibilities of campaign staff reflected the Executive Office of the Attorney General's Office."

The campaign manager was Horne's chief of staff, the chief strategist was his legislative liaison, and the campaign spokeswoman was his office spokeswoman, Collins wrote. All were unpaid campaign volunteers.

Collins said, "A person does not serve as a campaign volunteer if that person is compensated."

Collins came up with the $312,000 figure by pro-rating the salaries of the state employees who volunteered for Horne's campaign for eight months.

The Maricopa County attorney is also investigating Beattie's complaint. Horne sued to block that probe, arguing that County Attorney Bill Montgomery was a political opponent, but a judge last month refused to stop the investigation. Horne has since dropped the case.

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