PHOENIX — Attorney General Tom Horne illegally coordinated his 2010 campaign with what was supposed to be an independent committee, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk concluded Thursday.
Polk said there was evidence that the last-minute television commercial paid for by Business Leaders for Arizona, set up by Kathleen Winn, was done in coordination with Horne. Polk said that makes the $513,340 spent by her group to help Horne defeat Democrat Felecia Rotellini an illegal “in-kind” contribution to Horne's campaign because it circumvented limits on how much individuals can give.
She ordered most of the money refunded to donors, and Polk said if Horne and Winn refuse, she will pursue them in court for civil penalties equal to three times the amount.
Horne would not discuss Polk's findings. Instead, he insisted that he will be vindicated after a hearing.
“There was no coordination,” Horne said.
But Polk, a Republican like Horne, said she has plenty of evidence to prove otherwise.
“The content of the e-mails between Winn and (campaign consultant Brian) Murray, coupled with the timing of those emails and the phone calls between Winn and Horne provide convincing proof that Horne and Winn coordinated on the development of the political message to be conveyed by the Business Leaders for Arizona anti-Rotellini advertisement,” Polk wrote.
Polk also said Horne got information from a Republican pollster telling him he was losing support because of pro-Rotellini commercials being financed by an out-of-state Democratic group, with the pollster recommending a strategy to “stop the bleeding.”
Polk said Horne forwarded the polling information and advice to Winn with a suggestion she seek an additional $100,000. In other words, Polk said, Horne asked Winn's “supposedly independent political committee to fulfill that (fundraising) need by doing what he could not himself do: raise $100,000 from a single unrelated donor and spend it on anti-Rotellini advertisement targeting Rotellini's ties to unions and her record on Arizona immigration policy.”
“When Horne sent strategic information to a supposedly independent campaign, he intentionally and blatantly broke the barrier that was supposed to exist between his campaign and the BLA,” Polk wrote. “The breach is so clear that Horne must have recognized it to be improper.”
Polk is actually the second prosecutor to conclude that Horne and Winn broke the law, but Horne managed to get the findings of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery thrown out over questions about the procedures used to send the case to Maricopa County.
That court said the allegations legally had to go to Horne's office, though one of Horne's deputies chose Polk to investigate.
Polk's report comes as Rotellini is angling for another shot at Horne in the 2014 race after losing the 2010 race by about 63,000 votes. She is the only announced Democrat candidate; Horne is facing a GOP primary challenge from Mark Brnovich, a former state gaming director.
At the center of the issue is Winn who had been part of Horne's campaign team for the GOP primary.
She later formed Business Leaders for Arizona ahead of the general election, billed as a separate campaign committee. Such committees, which have no spending limits, are perfectly legal as long as it is entirely separate from the candidate.
By contrast, statewide candidates in the 2010 race were limited to taking no more than $840 from any one source.
During that campaign, a committee funded by the Democratic Attorney Generals Association aired a commercial saying that when Horne was a legislator he voted against tougher penalties for statutory rape and that, as a member of the state Board of education, he voted to let a teacher back in the classroom who had been caught viewing child pornography on a school computer.
Winn's committee, starting about two weeks before the general election, received the more than $500,000 from seven individuals and three entities, using the money to produce and air a last-minute TV ad expressly urging Rotellini's defeat.
Polk said it was clear from her review of the record that effort was coordinated with Horne.
For example, she cited email exchanges about two weeks before the election between Winn and Murray. At the same time, there were five calls between Horne and Winn.
Later in the day, while Horne and Winn were speaking by phone, Murray e-mailed Winn the “voice-over” for the anti-Rotellini commercial. Then, after Winn finished talking with Horne, she sent an e-mail to Murray.
“We do not like that her name is mentioned 4 times and no mention for Horne,” it reads, saying “we are doing a re-write currently and will get back to you.” And Winn apologized to Murray for the confusion, saying “I have several masters.”
“It would have taken Winn approximately 1-2 minutes to create this email, meaning that she must have started it either while she was talking to Horne or immediately thereafter,” Polk wrote in her order. And she said Winn spoke to no one else on her cell phone during that time.
Polk cited several other instances where the messages to Murray were interspersed with calls to Horne.
“Winn was almost always either on the phone with Horne, or spoke with Horne prior to conveying final instructions to Murray,” Polk wrote. And she said that, given all the evidence, when Winn said “we” have a problem with the script “it is reasonable to conclude that 'we' meant Winn and Horne.”
Polk also said some of the contributions to Winn's committee came from corporations. Polk said because Winn coordinated with Horne, these violated state laws which bar corporate contributions to candidates.
The investigation is the outgrowth of an FBI investigation into Horne, which included tailing him. No federal charges were ever filed, with the federal agency turning over what it found about the campaign finances to Montgomery.