Tom Horne

Attorney General Tom Horne. [Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services]

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Attorney General Tom Horne goes before an administrative law judge Monday to defend himself against charges he violated state campaign finance laws in his 2010 election.

Horne is facing a complaint by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he illegally coordinated with what was supposed to be an independent campaign finance committee about a last-minute commercial that may have allowed him to beat Democrat Felecia Rotellini.

Mike Kimerer, Horne's attorney, calls the evidence being presented “circumstantial and coincidental.” He said there's a legitimate explanation for everything Polk is claiming shows that laws were broken.

The case stems from a $513,340 TV commercial produced and paid for by Business Leaders for Arizona. That committee, formed before the general election, was being run by Kathleen Winn who had been an employee of Horne's while he was state school superintendent who also worked on his 2010 GOP primary race.

Winn now works for Horne in the Attorney General's Office.

Polk, working with interviews, phone records and emails gathered by the FBI, said there is evidence of coordination between Horne and Winn about that commercial. That, she said, made the commercial effectively an “in-kind” contribution to Horne's campaign.

More to the point, if the committee was really acting under Horne's direction it would be subject to the $840 limit on donations from any one source.

Polk ordered Horne and Winn to refund the donations above that limit, close to $500,000, including an extra $349,160 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. They refused, resulting in the hearing before Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer.

Polk's case is based on the content of emails between Winn and campaign consultant Brian Murray, coupled with the timing of those emails and phone calls between Winn and Horne. Polk, in her complaint said that provides “convincing proof that Horne and Winn coordinated on the development of the political message to be conveyed by the Business Leaders for Arizona anti-Rotellini advertisement.”

Kimerer told Capitol Media Services that there's a big hole in Polk's case.

“They have no direct proof that there's conversations going on about coordination,” he said.

“I think it stretches the imagination, regardless of the sequence of the calls or the timing, that you just automatically have to assume they're talking about this particular ad,” Kimerer continued. “And I think we have evidence we can put on that will show that there's more of a reason to believe they were talking about something else.”

That “something else” is a real estate deal that Kimerer said Winn was helping Horne to close.

Kimerer said he is probably going to call Horne to the stand to explain what happened, but he may not get the first crack at his client.

Because this is a civil matter, he can be called by Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields as part of his effort to prove collusion. And unlike a criminal trial, Horne cannot invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The hearing is expected to last three days.

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