The director of the Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Commission on Tuesday recommended the commission authorize a full investigation of Attorney General Tom Horne to determine if he broke election laws.
Director Tom Collins is recommending that the full commission authorize the formal inquiry when it meets Thursday.
The inquiry would examine whether Horne violated the law by using his executive staff to work on his re-election campaign and could end in enforcement action against Horne.
Former Horne staffer Sarah Beattie filed a complaint with the commission and the secretary of state's office last month saying she was essentially hired to work on Horne's campaign and that others in Horne's office did substantial work on his campaign as well. She provided emails and other documentation that supported her allegations.
The Republican attorney general has denied using his office staff for significant campaign work. He has accused Beattie of making false claims against previous employers and said she failed to disclose previous drug use and work as a stripper when she was hired.
He filed a lengthy response to the allegations earlier this month, and included affidavits from staff members denying they worked for the campaign during the day. Horne wrote that while some minor work might be done in the office, the vast majority of campaign work is done off-site and after work hours.
Collins wrote that Horne's formal response to Beattie's complaint not only didn't resolve the issue but actually "lends support to the complaint's claims or supports the inference that campaign finance violations may have occurred."
If the commission goes along with the recommendation, Collins would launch a formal inquiry and be empowered to use investigative powers to gather evidence. That process could take a couple of months before a determination of whether enforcement action should be taken that could result in civil fines.
Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Tuesday that if a formal inquiry is launched Horne should prevail.
"If this is a fair investigation, they will certainly come to the conclusion that these are nothing more than claims made by a confused ex-employee," Grisham said.
The secretary of state is also reviewing the complaint to determine whether there's reasonable cause to initiate a formal investigation. The secretary of state could refer the complaint to Horne's solicitor general, and the case would then be referred to an outside agency for a civil investigation that could lead to an enforcement action and fines.
Horne is facing a primary challenge from former Arizona Department of Gaming director Mark Brnovich and, if he advances, a Democratic challenger in November, Felecia Rotellini.
He also is appealing a decision by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he and a key aide violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 bid for his current office.