Former gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon believes a $10,000 election fine should be set aside because he’s the victim of a biased state official who acted after an inappropriate meeting with the agent of a political foe in late August.
Salmon’s attorney made those claims Tuesday as part of his appeal of the fine levied in February by the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
An outside attorney for the commission countered that Salmon is using unsupported emotional charges to draw attention away from the real issue: Salmon was late in reporting nearly $100,000 spent during last year’s primary campaign, missing important deadlines set by state law and commission rules.
Tuesday’s hearing before state administrative law judge Brian Tully was the first round in what is expected to be a lengthy fight between Salmon and the commission.
Salmon’s attorney, Tim Casey of Phoenix, focused on the role of commission executive director Colleen Connor in late August and early September in reversing the commission’s opinion about Salmon’s compliance with the law.
Former commission deputy director Matt Shaffer had originally convinced the commission to vote unanimously on Aug. 27 that Salmon made only a minor violation of the law and no fine was warranted.
Within three days, Connor took the case from Shaffer and suspended him, reopened the investigation and declared Salmon was late in reporting almost $500,000 in spending. That number was revised downward several times until an independent audit reached $98,500 in mid-October.
Casey argued Connor intervened only after a private meeting with Jessica Funkhauser, who as the state election director had recused herself from the case because she worked for Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, a Salmon opponent in the Republican primary. Afterward, Connor began twisting the rules and audit procedures against Salmon and the commission followed her lead, Casey said.
"That’s a stacked deck. It’s unfair," Casey said. "You can take mudslinging but you can’t abusive power by an executive director."
Connor has never denied meeting with Funkhauser. But Connor testified Tuesday that she had immediate concerns about Shaffer’s recommendation on Aug. 27 that escalated when she confronted him the next day. "He admitted that he didn’t conduct a thorough review because ‘Matt Salmon was going to be governor,’ " Connor said.
Both sides have until May 20 to file additional documents, and Tully is expected to make a decision by mid-June. The commission has the authority to accept or reject Tully’s order.