PHOENIX -- Already shown the door by voters, state schools chief John Huppenthal now faces allegations he improperly used public resources in his unsuccessful re-election bid.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission will decide Thursday whether to investigate whether Huppenthal violated campaign-finance laws by having the Department of Education produce and distribute a video where he sought to clarify his beliefs on the Common Core academic standards. That video, also uploaded to YouTube, was published two weeks before the Aug. 26 Republican primary.
Tom Collins, the commission's executive director, said Huppenthal, as an elected official, does have certain rights to communicate with constituents. But Collins said the video and the message were "indistinguishable from his campaign message.'' And he said the timing also made it suspicious.
"Finally, if there is a significant doubt, (Huppenthal) unequivocally pledged to this constituency that he would undertake a policy initiative in his next term to review the issue,'' Collins said in a memo to commission members. Collins called this an "unambiguous campaign pledge'' made with state resources -- and violation of state law that prohibits Huppenthal, as a publicly funded candidate, from taking this type of in-kind contribution.
Collins, citing the evidence he has, is asking the commission when it meets to let him conduct a full-blown investigation, including the right to subpoena documents.
Any investigation of improper use of state resources is beyond the scope of the commission.
Huppenthal, in a prepared statement, denied any wrongdoing, saying in the last three years on the job he has communicated daily with educators about standards for math and English language arts.
"This communication is a huge part of my job,'' he said.
Huppenthal said as the Common Core standards became more controversial, he was acting to "protect the education system by communicating more, not less.''
"I believe it would have been a dereliction of duty to have done less,'' he said.
Huppenthal declined to be interviewed.
Common Core was the hot-button issue in the Republican primary, as it remains in the general election.
The standards, crafted by the National Governors Association, school officials and business leaders, are designed to spell out what students should know at various points in their education. They were adopted four years ago in Arizona with the support of both Gov. Jan Brewer and Huppenthal.
As recently as February, Huppenthal defended the standards, saying they will "raise the bar for our students and better prepare them to succeed as they move on to college or career pathways.'' But that was before Republican challenger Diane Douglas began attacking the standards as being driven from Washington over the beliefs of Arizona parents.
Huppenthal, in that August video -- and his campaign stance -- took a more nuanced stance to what had since been renamed Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, saying he opposes anything removing responsibility for curriculum and standards from local school boards and promised to work with the next governor and education community to fully review the standards.''
Despite that shift, Douglas handily won the primary. She now faces off in November against Democrat David Garcia.
Collins, in saying there's reason to believe the law was broken, said elected officials have "First Amendment rights in their advocacy of policies.''
But he said none of that overrules restrictions on contributions. And he said Huppenthal, having accepting public funds for his campaign, agreed to the restrictions which come with that.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.