Attorney General Tom Horne said he does not believe the renewed charges he violated campaign finance laws in getting his office will undermine his bid for reelection.
In an interview with Capitol Media Services, Horne said he intends to seek superior court review of the findings by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he illegally coordinated his 2010 campaign with an independent committee. He took a verbal slap at Polk for pursuing the case, saying she has “no expertise in election law.”
But that appeal, he conceded, will drag the case on — and keep it in the public eye — at least through the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Still, Horne said he is not worried.
“I expect to have a victory just in time,” he said of his battle against GOP challenger Mark Brnovich.
Even if the court case is not resolved, Horne said he already can claim to have one. That's because the administrative law judge who heard the case already has ruled there is insufficient evidence to show that he and Kathleen Winn, who ran Business Leaders for Arizona, broke the law.
“(Voters) understand the difference between an objective judge saying these are false charges and a losing adversary trying to overrule the judge,” Horne said. “I think the key, taken from the voters' standpoint, is what does the neutral judge say.”
Polk, however, essentially overruled Eigenheer's decision, which technically was only a recommendation. The prosecutor now wants Horne to refund more than $400,000 she said the coordination resulted in Horne getting that was above what he could have accepted legally.
“I have the advantage of an independent judge listen to the evidence and rule in my favor,” Horne said of the findings of Tammy Eigenheer, the hearing officer, “and the losing party trying to overrule the judge.”
Horne put it in terms of he being one team and Polk being the other.
“It's like a baseball player being called out and then saying, ‘Well, I overrule the umpire, I'm safe,’” Horne said.
That parallel may not hold up.
Polk already concluded last October that Horne had coordinated with Winn about her group paying for and running a last-minute TV ads attacking Democrat Felecia Rotellini.
State law allowed Horne and Winn to protest that decision, just like the decision of any state agency. And in this case, Polk was acting in the role of attorney general since Horne could not investigate himself.
As in the case of any protest, the case goes to a hearing officer. But the agency chief is not bound by that decision.
Horne, however, said this is different — and that Polk should have followed Eigenheer's recommendation. He said agency chiefs get to overrule hearing officers because they have expertise.
“Sheila Polk has no expertise in election law,” he said. “There's no reason for a (superior court) judge to defer to her.”
Brnovich, however, sees the charges as a political opportunity: Within hours of Polk's decision to reject Eigenheer's recommendation, he sent out an email reporting the news and asking for campaign donations.
“I pledge to you that I will never embarrass your or our state,” Brnovich said in his plea. And, in a clearly partisan move, he told would-be donors he is the “only Republican candidate who can win the race in November,” suggesting that a rerun of the 2010 contest between Horne and Rotellini would have a difference outcome.
Horne, however, said he can clearly attack Polk's move as improper.
He noted that Polk, in her Wednesday order, concluded that his testimony and that of Winn was "not credible.'' But Horne said it was Eigenheer — and not Polk — who actually watched the pair testify and heard other witnesses.
“Polk has no ability to judge credibility,” Horne said. “She never met almost anybody who testified.”