Saying there was more than enough evidence to proceed, the state's Citizens Clean Elections Commission voted Thursday to launch a full probe into whether Attorney General Tom Horne has been using state employees and resources to campaign for reelection.
The unanimous vote came despite arguments by Sandra Slaton, Horne's attorney, that the commissioners should not believe the claims by Sarah Beattie, a former staffer at Horne's state office.
Beattie submitted affidavits and documents saying that she was expected to do campaign work during normal business hours and that she observed others also working on the race. But Slaton publicly labeled her a liar.
“Her credibility has to be rejected right off the bat,” Slaton said. The attorney specifically pointed to Beattie having signed time cards saying she was working 40 hours a week on state business.
“So how could there be time cards from Miss Beatty for having worked a full work week every week, and then have her come in and allege this?” Slaton told the commission.
“It's that classic case: Which time were you lying?” Slaton continued. “Was she lying on her time cards or was she lying when she brought this complaint?”
She told the panel that the only thing it has comes from this “truly untrustworthy witness.” By contrast, Slaton said Horne has submitted statements from 11 others who work in Horne's office.
“All of them say that every bit of volunteer activity was done at this other physical location and outside of the office,” she said.
Thomas Ryan, Beattie's attorney, acknowledged his client did sign time cards, but he said that was done at the direction of superiors.
Commissioner Timothy Reckart said Slaton's arguments were just that: arguments and not evidence, and he said the credibility of various witnesses “is something for us to decide, ultimately, in an inquiry.”
“We've got to find the facts first before we take any action,” he told her. Reckart said the commission was simply voting to pursue an investigation of its own — one where it can subpoena documents and testimony.
Commissioner Thomas Koestler said he does not doubt that there will be some level of political activity in the office of any official seeking reelection.
“However, the overwhelming amount of evidence suggests a possibility of at least some irregularities,” he said. And Koestler noted that Beattie has worked on prior political campaigns.
“The testimony by a person who has previous experience in campaigns leads me to believe that we need to look further into this,” he said. “It's just not an incident. It's something that's gone on for some time.”
Whether the commission gets a chance to do that, however, remains unsettled.
Slaton suggested she might try to get a judge to short-circuit the probe. She contends the panel has no jurisdiction over Horne because he is running with private donations and not using public funds that the commission administers.
Thomas Collins, the commission's executive director, said the allegations clearly fall within the scope of the panel's authority.