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Yavapai County attorney: Horne, Winn illegally coordinated campaign activity

Attorney General Tom Horne (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Attorney General Tom Horne (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk reached the same conclusion as her counterpart in Maricopa County, finding that Attorney General Tom Horne and a top aide illegally coordinated their campaign activity during the 2010 election.

Polk on Thursday issued an order requiring Horne and Kathleen Winn, who ran the independent expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona, to refund $397,000 and amend their campaign finance reports to reflect that Horne and Winn coordinated their activities. Under state law, if a committee coordinates with a candidate, all contributions to the independent expenditure are subject to contribution limits, which were $840 in 2010.

“As a result of that coordination, all of BLA’s expenditures must be deemed in-kind contributions to the Horne Campaign,” Polk wrote. “That coordination resulted in Horne’s violations of campaign finance laws.”

Horne and Winn have 20 days to comply with the order. If they don’t, they could face a fine of up to three times the amount of the violation, which is nearly $1.2 million.

Horne and Timothy La Sota, Winn’s attorney, said they would challenge Polk’s findings in court. If they do so, the case will go to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

“It will go to a hearing and we’ll prove in the hearing that there’s been no coordination,” Horne told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Polk cited a series of telephone conversations that Winn had with Horne while emailing BLA’s political consultant. The prosecutor said they show the two coordinated the messages of an October 2010 attack ad against Felecia Rotellini, Horne’s Democratic opponent in the attorney general’s race.

Phone records show that Winn exchanged several calls with Horne shortly after receiving emails from consultant Brian Murray. Winn responded to Murray via email after or near the end of calls with Horne, providing instructions on the upcoming television ad. In several of the emails, she used the pronoun “we” to describe the changes she and unnamed others wanted made to the ad. Records show that Winn did not communicate with anyone else on the phone or via emails besides Horne.

“The records show that in the course of this work whenever a decision was made to modify or approve the ‘voice-over’ script, Winn was almost always either on the phone with Horne, or spoke with Horne prior to conveying final instructions to Murray,” Polk wrote. “The content of the e-mails between Winn and Murray, coupled with the timing of those e-mails and the phone calls between Winn and Horne provide convincing proof that Horne and Winn coordinated.”

Polk said the emails also contradict an affidavit in which Winn said she created the ad without anyone’s assistance, except Murray’s.

In addition, Polk cited an October 27 email chain between Horne and campaign pollster Ryan Ducharme, which Horne then forwarded to Winn, as well as to a staffer with the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which contributed $350,000 to Business Leaders for Arizona. In the emails, Ducharme warned Horne that he was losing ground to Rotellini and suggested specific attacks to use against her.

Horne forwarded the email chain to Winn, informing her that he’d sent the information to RSLC and suggesting that she try to raise another $100,000.

“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 BLA. The breach is so clear that Horne must have recognized it as improper,” Polk wrote.

The Oct. 27 email chain came after BLA’s ad aired on television. The committee did not create another ad before the general election.

Polk also noted that when Winn forwarded the email chain to Murray, the consultant immediately recognized it as improper. Murray sent the emails to his attorney, stating that he’d already warned Winn on numerous occasions to stop having contact with Horne, and warning he reiterated after receiving the email chain.

Most of the contributions received by BLA were in excess of the $840 contribution limit in place in 2010. In addition, the committee received two $15,000 contributions and one $2,000 contribution from private corporations. Direct corporate contributions to candidates are barred by Arizona law.

Timothy La Sota, Winn’s attorney, denied that she coordinated BLA’s activities with Horne.

“The case is based on speculation and conjecture, and not real facts,” said La Sota, of the firm Tiffany and Bosco. “The only people who were parties to that conversation deny that they ever did anything to coordinate. They’ve speculated about what was meant with those emails. But that’s all it is, is speculation.”

Winn and Horne have said the phone conversations that Polk cited were about an unrelated real estate deal that Winn, a mortgage broker, was assisting him with.

Winn volunteered on Horne’s campaign but left after the August 2010 primary to run BLA’s campaign. She created the committee in 2009, but it lay dormant until she left Horne’s campaign. After Horne’s election, she went to work for him at the Attorney General’s Office as his director of community outreach.

The allegations against Horne and Winn stem from a joint investigation between the FBI and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which was initiated after an agent at the Attorney General’s Office provided a tip to the FBI. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery pursued civil charges against Horne and Winn for coordination, but a judge later booted his office from the case after ruling that MCAO did not have jurisdiction. The case was later forwarded to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.

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