A former state election official was awarded $1.1 million Thursday for being falsely accused of helping a Republican candidate dodge state campaign finance rules.
The federal jury verdict was a victory for Matt Shaffer, who was fired in September 2002 as the deputy director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. The state agency manages taxpayer money given to campaigns for the Legislature and statewide offices.
Shaffer was accused by then-executive director Colleen Connor of possibly helping Republican Matt Salmon avoid reporting key details of his spending during the primary race for governor. Connor made the claim in a letter to the state Department of Public Safety as she requested a criminal investigation, said Richard Harris, one of Shaffer’s lawyers. Salmon was privately funded, but was required by the commission to make timely reports.
The jury didn’t dispute Connor’s right to fire Shaffer, Harris said. But jurors found Connor had no evidence to justify the claims in her letter.
"We’re ecstatic the jury sent a clear signal that what Colleen Connor did was wrong," Harris said. "You don’t do this to someone on their way out the door."
The allegation kept Shaffer out of work for nearly two years, forcing him to sell his Scottsdale home and eventually move to Tucson for employment, Harris said.
Connor declined to comment and commission officials could not be reached Thursday.
Shaffer, who oversaw the agency’s enforcement cases, convinced the commission to dismiss an August 2002 complaint against Salmon because he considered any violations to be minor technicalities. Days later, Connor publicly claimed Shaffer had been incorrect and Salmon’s violations were so serious that he should be fined $10,000.
The commission agreed with Connor, but later lowered the fine and withdrew the most serious claims against Salmon on the advice of a state hearing officer.
Connor is now a deputy Maricopa County attorney.