PHOENIX — Attorney General Tom Horne illegally coordinated his 2010 campaign with what was supposed to be an independent committee, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk concluded Thursday.
As a result, Polk said Horne must refund most of $513,340 spent on a last-minute television commercial paid for by Business Leaders for Arizona, set up by Kathleen Winn, who worked on his 2010 campaign until she quit to set up an independent campaign committee.
Polk said there is evidence of coordination between Horne and Winn to defeat Democrat Felecia Rotellini, which made the $513,340 an illegal “in-kind” contribution to Horne’s campaign because it circumvented limits on how much individuals can give.
If Horne and Winn do not return the money, Polk said she will take them to court for civil penalties equal to three times the amount.
Horne would not discuss Polk’s findings, insisting he will be vindicated after a hearing.
“There was no coordination,” Horne said. But Polk, a Republican like Horne, said she has plenty of evidence to prove otherwise.
“The content of the emails between Winn and (campaign consultant Brian) Murray, coupled with the timing of those emails and the phone calls between Winn and Horne provide 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,” Polk wrote.
Polk also said Horne got information from a Republican pollster telling him he was losing support because of pro-Rotellini commercials being financed by an out-of-state Democratic group, with the pollster recommending a strategy to “stop the bleeding.”
Polk said Horne forwarded the polling information and advice to Winn with a suggesting she seek an additional $100,000.
In other words, Polk said, Horne asked Winn’s “supposedly independent political committee to fulfill that (fundraising) need by doing what he could not himself do: Raise $100,000 from a single unrelated donor and spend it on an anti-Rotellini advertisement targeting Rotellini’s ties to unions and her record on Arizona immigration policy.”
“When Horne sent strategic information to a supposedly independent campaign, he intentionally and blatantly broke the barrier that was supposed to exist between his campaign and the BLA,” Polk wrote. “The breach is so clear that Horne must have recognized it to be improper.”
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery came to a similar conclusion, but Horne got his findings thrown out . Following that ruling, Horne’s office selected Polk to investigate the allegations.
After leaving Horne’s campaign team, Winn formed Business Leaders for Arizona, supposedly as a separate campaign committee. Such committees, which have no spending limits, are legal as long as they are entirely independent of the candidates.
Candidates for statewide office themselves were limited to taking no more than $840 from any one source that year.
The Democratic Attorney Generals Association ad backing Rotellini charged that when Horne was a legislator he voted against tougher penalties for statutory rape and that, as a member of the state Board of Education, he voted to let a teacher back into the classroom who had been caught viewing child porn on a school computer.
In response, Winn’s committee, starting about two weeks before the general election, raised more than $500,000 from seven individuals and three entities.
Polk said it was clear that effort was coordinated with Horne