A state judge refused Tuesday to block the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from investigating whether Attorney General Tom Horne has used public resources and staff in his current reelection bid.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dawn Bergin rejected Horne's contention that the commission has legal authority only over candidates who “participate” in the public funding system and run for office with public dollars. State Sen. Steve Pierce's attorney, Mike Liburdi, pointed out that Horne is using donations and family dollars to gain the Republican nomination.
Bergin said the plain language of the law “demonstrates an intent to subject nonparticipating candidates who substantially exceed the statutory contribution limits to the same penalty as participating candidates: disqualification or forfeiture of office.”
Bergin was no more sympathetic to Horne's argument that letting the commission investigate his activities means he would be subject to multiple investigations by multiple agencies. She said her job “is not to make policy determinations, but to construe statutes according to their plain meaning.”
The judge acknowledged that the Legislature just this past session amended the law to spell out that the commission “has no authority to accept, investigate or otherwise act on any complaint” involving a violation of election laws.
But Bergin pointed out that law did not take effect until July, after the commission started investigating Horne, and she said there was nothing in the law that said it was retroactive.
Sarah Beattie, a former staffer at the Attorney General's Office, has charged that she was asked and expected to work on state time on Horne's reelection bid. Beattie also said she saw others doing campaign work in state offices.
The Secretary of State's Office already has concluded there is reason to believe the law was violated.
By law, that complaint was referred to the Attorney General's Office, but a Horne aid gave the investigation to a former judge and a city attorney and deputized them as prosecutors to decide what to do next.
Outside the question of election laws, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office also is looking into whether there were violations of other statutes about misuse of public funds. Earlier this month a different judge refused to block that inquiry simply because Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is a supporter of Mark Brnovich, Horne's Republican foe.
The article incorrectly listed Michael Liburdi as the lawyer for Attorney General Tom Horne. Liburdi represents Sen. Steve Pierce who filed a friend of the court brief in Horne's case. Horne is represented by Timothy LaSota.