PHOENIX — Concluding some testimony to a hearing officer was “not credible,” Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk decided Wednesday to pursue Attorney General Tom Horne on charges he illegally coordinated his 2010 election campaign with an independent committee.
In a nine-page order, Polk rejecting the conclusion by Tammy Eigenheer, the administrative law judge, that Oct. 20 phone calls between Horne and Kathleen Winn were solely to discuss a real estate deal she was helping the attorney general complete.
Winn was, at the time, operating Business Leaders for Arizona, which was registered as an independent campaign committee to help Horne get elected. As an independent committee, it could not legally coordinate its expenses with the candidate.
Polk said the timing of those calls, coupled with nearly simultaneous emails by Winn to campaign consultant Brian Murray, provide enough evidence the pair discussed the upcoming election and TV ads that Winn’s organization was producing.
Polk said the evidence also shows Horne, in forwarding some strategic information about weaknesses in his campaign to Winn, directed her to raise $100,000 and instructed how to spend the money to combat those shortcomings.
Polk reaffirmed her October decision that that means Horne and Winn broke the law, and that the illegal coordination made Horne the beneficiary of more than $400,000 in illegal campaign donations. Her order requires him to refund the money, with a possible penalty of three times that amount.
Horne said he will seek Superior Court review of the conclusion by Polk, whom he dismissed as a “county politician.”
Eigenheer is an “independent judge,” Horne said, who “came to the very clear conclusion that no campaign finance laws were broken. This should have been the end of it, but a county politician has foolishly ignored the ruling of an independent judge.”
But Polk, in her order, said she expects her findings to be upheld.
Eigenheer said prosecutors from Polk’s office, which investigated the allegation, had not proved that what Horne or Winn did broke campaign finance laws. Eigenheer said there were reasons other than the campaign for the pair to have communicated with each other, including that Winn, who now works for Horne, was helping him with a commercial real estate purchase.
“While there are inferences that can be made, there are also reasonable explanations that the communications related to Mr. Horne’s real estate transaction that was pending at the same time,” Eigenheer wrote.
But Polk said even if the pair did discuss real estate, they also could have discussed the campaign.
And Polk specifically said she did not believe testimony from Winn.
“Ms. Winn repeatedly changed her story throughout the progress of this case,” Polk wrote. “Her pattern of contradicting sworn affidavits to conform to newly revealed facts calls into question her credibility.”
Tim LaSota, Winn’s attorney, called that assertion “disgusting.”
“They tried to distort what my client said in front of the (administrative law) judge and the judge didn’t buy it one bit,” he said. And LaSota said Winn’s testimony was “consistent” with that of Murray, the campaign consultant.
At issue is $513,340 spent by Business Leaders for Arizona on a last-minute television commercial attacking Felecia Rotellini, Horne’s 2010 Democrat foe.
If there was coordination between Winn’s group and Horne, that made contributions to her group essentially contributions to Horne himself, subject to a state $840 contribution limit. It also would mean corporate contributions to Winn’s group, which are legal, would become illegal corporate donations to a candidate.
Polk’s order requires Horne to refund all donations above the limits, totaling about $400,000, plus the possible penalty.