PHOENIX — Attorney General Tom Horne says he does not believe the renewed charges that he violated campaign-finance laws when he won his job in 2010 will undermine his bid for a second term.
Horne said he intends to seek Superior Court review of the findings by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who says he illegally coordinated his 2010 campaign with an independent committee.
Horne criticized Polk for even pursuing the case, saying she has “no expertise in election law.”
But his appeal of her findings, he conceded, will go on for some time, keeping it in the public eye at least through the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Still, he said he is not worried.
“I expect to have a victory just in time,” he said of his battle against GOP challenger Mark Brnovich.
Even if the court case is not resolved, Horne said can make the argument he did no wrong because the administrative law judge who heard the case already has ruled there is insufficient evidence to show he and Kathleen Winn, who ran Business Leaders for Arizona, broke the law.
Voters “understand the difference between an objective judge saying these are false charges and a losing adversary trying to overrule the judge,” Horne said. “I think the key, taken from the voters’ standpoint, is what does the neutral judge say.”
Polk, however, essentially overruled hearing officer Tammy Eigenheer’s decision, which was not legally binding, but only a recommendation. The prosecutor now wants Horne to refund more than $400,000 she said Horne received as a result of the illegal coordination, which would be above what he could have accepted legally.
But Horne said he has “the advantage” of an independent judge having heard the evidence and ruling in his favor.
“It’s like a baseball player being called out and then saying, ‘Well, I overrule the umpire, I’m safe,’ ‘’ Horne said.
That parallel may not hold up.
Polk already concluded last October that Horne had coordinated with Winn about her group paying for and running a last-minute TV ads attacking Democrat Felecia Rotellini.
State law allowed Horne and Winn to protest that decision, just like the decision of any state agency. In this case, Polk was acting in the role of attorney general since Horne could not investigate himself. And, as in the case of any protest, the case goes to a hearing officer. But the agency chief is not bound by that decision.
Horne, however, said this is different — and that Polk should have followed Eigenheer’s recommendation. He said agency chiefs get to overrule hearing officers because they have expertise.
“Sheila Polk has no expertise in election law,” he said. “There’s no reason for a (Superior Court) judge to defer to her.”
Brnovich, however, sees the charges as a political opportunity: Within hours of Polk’s rejection of Eigenheer’s recommendation, he sent out an email reporting the news and asking for campaign donations.
“I pledge to you that I will never embarrass your or our state,” Brnovich said in his plea, and told would-be donors he is the “only Republican candidate who can win the race in November,” suggesting that a rerun of the 2010 contest between Horne and Rotellini would have a different outcome.
Horne, however, said he can clearly attack Polk’s move as improper.
He noted that Polk, in her Wednesday order, concluded his testimony and that of Winn were “not credible.” But Horne said it was Eigenheer — and not Polk — who watched the pair testify and heard other witnesses.