Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake ruled Wednesday there is enough evidence and uncontested allegations against Attorney General Tom Horne to merit a full-blown investigation into whether he has been using state resources and employees to campaign for reelection.
In formal findings, Drake said that responses submitted by Horne back up claims by former staffer Sarah Beattie that workers at Horne's office “were not volunteering but instead were being compensated by the State of Arizona while conducting campaign activities for Mr. Horne.” That includes the use of state computers to prepare campaign materials on state time.
Drake also said Horne submitted no evidence that his office followed state laws or other procedures “to prevent campaign activities from occurring during these work hours, which could have provided a viable and meaningful defense to these allegations.”
The report goes to state Solicitor General Robert Ellman who is actually part of Horne's staff. Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the office, said Ellman in turn appointed Daniel Barker who is a former Court of Appeals Judge and Gilbert Town Attorney Michael Hamblin. She said Barker and Hamblin will have final say over whether Horne broke the law and, if so, what he should be ordered to refund.
Drake said his office is involved because it enforces state campaign finance laws which both limit how much candidates can take from any one source and police statutes which require reporting of all donations.
“Since the campaign activities are not volunteer hours (by staffers), they are no longer exempt from the contribution definition,” Drake wrote. He said that makes these “in-kind contributions” which Horne did not report.
Drake said acceptance of public resources for campaigns violates other state laws.
Horne said he expects to be cleared, calling Beattie “a woman who has a history of making claims when she leaves employers.”
“I have filed 11 witness statements indicating there is nothing to these allegations,” he said in his prepared statement.
But Drake, who had access to all those statements, including from Horne himself, concluded that was not the case. For example, he noted Beattie said she personally worked on the campaign during regular hours. But Drake said Horne provided no evidence to dispute that allegations but instead provided “general statements” from him and others they “were unaware of her campaign work on state time.”
Drake said, though, that contradicts statements by Horne and another staffer that they had discussed with Beattie her work on state time.
He also said that Horne admitted to discussing an upcoming fundraiser with Beattie and others during work hours but said that discussion took less than five minutes.
“Additionally, he only addressed the discussion as ‘political water cooler talk’ and did not respond to the allegation that campaign assignments were tasked to the employees during this discussion and the expected deadline for staff to complete this task,” Drake wrote.
Drake said Horne “admits to discussions about campaign events” but said that was to avoid “scheduling conflicts.”
“But he did not address the specific allegation that campaign discussions beyond scheduling were being held on state property with his executive office staff,” Drake wrote. Drake said Horne's response directly conflicts other statements that “significant meetings” were held at an off-site location.
Drake also said that Horne aide Kathleen Winn admitted she sent Beattie a document during work hours entitled “17 Major Achievements” about Horne.
Winn responded that while it was sent at 2:14 p.m. it was not for official work purposes but “for her to work on in her own time at home, not at work,” but Drake noted that the document was labeled “Top priority stat” and that Winn's statement corroborates Beattie's statement that she was being assigned campaign tasks during regular work hours.
Horne also said he sees no need to proceed with the internal investigation into activities of his own office now that there will be an outside probe. That inquiry had drawn criticism because the two attorneys chosen by Eric Bistrow, Horne's chief deputy and former business partner, had both made contributions to Horne's campaign.
“I have instructed my staff to cooperate fully with any investigation taking place,” Horne said in his statement.
The findings come at a politically inopportune time for Horne: Early voting starts later this month for the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Horne is facing a challenge from Mark Brnovich, a former state gaming director, who has openly attacked Horne's ethics, not only because of these allegations but a separate finding by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk of improprieties in Horne's original 2010 race.
The survivor of the primary will face off against Democrat Felecia Rotellini in the general election.