Horne fighting back against ex-staffer's campaign finance allegations - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Horne fighting back against ex-staffer's campaign finance allegations

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Posted: Monday, June 2, 2014 4:38 pm | Updated: 5:28 pm, Mon Jun 2, 2014.

Attorney General Tom Horne is lashing out at a former staffer who charges he is using his office to campaign for reelection even as he opens a court fight over whether he broke the law in 2010 to get elected the first time.

In statements filed Monday with two state agencies, Horne said there is no basis to charges by Sarah Beattie, a former staffer, that she and others were told to work during business hours on campaign efforts. He wants the Secretary of State's Office and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which have concurrent authority over campaign finance laws, to dismiss the claims as groundless.

Horne said it is obvious on its face that Beattie's claim the campaign was run out of his state office is false.

“If that were true, there would be no reason for the numerous off-site meetings confirmed by an independent witness,” he wrote in his 11-page response.

Horne also attacked Beattie's character, saying she never disclosed on her employment application that she had been a stripper at a club and had a prior history of drug abuse. He said had Beattie revealed that, she never would have been hired in the first place.

“Certainly, leaving the strip club out of the list of prior employers was an act of dishonesty,” he wrote.

But Tom Ryan, Beattie's attorney, said all this was known to Brett Mecum, Horne's lobbyist, with whom Beattie lived at the time Mecum recruited her. And he said Horne, rather than respond to very specific allegations, including electronically time-stamped documents, “wants to engage in an attack-and-distract strategy: attack Sarah Beattie and distract from the real story.”

Horne's defense of his 2014 campaign comes as attorneys for him and Kathleen Winn, another aide, are asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen to block further efforts by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to pursue them over charges of violating campaign finance laws during the 2010 campaign.

Polk contends Winn, running what was supposed to be an independent campaign organization, illegally coordinated with Horne about the content of a last-minute TV commercial paid for by her organization.

A state hearing officer concluded last month there was insufficient evidence to prove that coordination occurred, but Polk rejected the recommendation and ordered Horne to refund more than $400,000 his campaign collected illegally.

In court papers filed late last week, the lawyers for Horne and Winn contend that Polk's conclusions that the pair broke the law are not supported by the evidence.

But they also are attacking the process that Polk followed in rejecting the hearing officer's recommendation as well as the entire state campaign finance law which limited Horne to collecting no more than $840 from any one source.

That last point could prove crucial.

Business Leaders for Arizona, the group that Winn operated, is not subject to contribution limits. But if there was coordination, contributions to Winn's committee above $840 per person were effectively illegal contributions directly to Horne's own campaign.

Michael Kimerer, representing Horne, and Timothy La Sota, who is Winn's lawyer, are arguing those limits “were too low under standards established by the United States Supreme Court.” And if the limits are unconstitutional, then they are unenforceable — and it really does not matter if Horne was the beneficiary of much larger donations to Winn's group, as he could have personally taken as much as he wanted.

No court date has been set for that case.

The questions over this year's campaign stem from an affidavit Beattie gave last month to state officials. Beattie said saying she was told, after she was hired last year, to work on getting Horne reelected.

Beattie attached 146 pages of supporting materials including campaign documents on which she said she worked, along with emails from Horne and others. Beattie also said she witnessed others in Horne's executive team, all state employees, who worked on campaign materials, often for hours at a time.

Horne said there's no basis for her charges.

He said his agency “takes seriously the obligation to make sure that all employees work 40 hours per week on state work, or that if they don't, their pay is reduced accordingly.” And Horne said that was enforced “with appropriate strictness'' by supervisors "about which Beattie complained frequently and emotionally.”

He attached statements from other employees who said Beattie complained that she was expected to work a full eight-hour day in addition to her campaign work, as well as affidavits from five coworkers in the office all saying there was no campaigning.

“It is more probable that Beattie is the fabricator, then that all of those other people are liars,” Horne wrote.

But Ryan said if anyone has a record of dishonesty, it is Horne himself. The Securities and Exchange Commission 40 years ago barred him for life from trading stocks after federal regulators accused him of fraud. Horne settled the case with the lifetime ban admitted he “willfully aided and abetted” in violations of securities laws.

Horne, in his defense, said state employees have a First Amendment right to volunteer for political campaigns.

“All significant campaign work, including meetings, has been done at an off-site location, at lunch time or after work,” he wrote. Horne said he uses the word “significant” because “the Attorney General's Executive Office has a certain amount of water cooler talk like any governmental office.”

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