Attorney General Tom Horne.

Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX — Attorney General Tom Horne did not violate campaign finance laws in his successful 2010 election, a state administrative law judge ruled this afternoon.

Tammy Eigenheer said the Yavapai County Attorney's Office did not prove that calls between Horne and Kathleen Winn, who was running Business Leaders for Arizona, an independent campaign committee, violated state laws which bar "improper coordination'' of expenses.

"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 in her 30-page ruling. Winn also was helping Horne purchase a property in Phoenix.

Eigenneer also said the Yavapai County Attorney's Office, handling the complaint on behalf of Secretary of State Ken Bennett, also failed to prove that an email from Horne to Winn broke campaign finance laws. She said there was no evidence presented to show that anything Horne sent to Winn had any material effect on the funds spent by Business Leaders for Arizona.

At issue in Horne's case is a last-minute television commercial before the 2010 race, paid for by Business Leaders for Arizona, run by Winn. It attacked Felecia Rotellini, Horne's Democratic foe.

In October, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk ordered Horne and Winn to refund most of the $513,340 spent on that commercial. Polk said there is evidence of coordination between Horne and Winn, which made the commercial an illegal "in-kind'' contribution to Horne's campaign because it circumvented limits on how much individuals can give.

Both Horne and Winn contested the findings.

Today's ruling does not end the matter.

Eigenheer's findings go to Polk who is free to ignore them and pursue the refund order. At that point it would be up to Horne and Winn to take the case to court.