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Horne amended campaign reports after learning of investigation

Attorney General Tom Horne (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Just days after learning that the FBI was investigating him for alleged campaign-finance violations, Attorney General Tom Horne amended nearly all of his finance reports from his 2010 campaign, including one that now shows previously undisclosed contributions from his sister and brother-in-law, central figures in the allegations against him.

Nearly a year and a half after the election, Horne amended one report to show an additional $600 in contributions from his sister and brother-in-law. The other amendments were simply to fill in personal information required to be included in campaign finance reports.

The report, which covers the period from late 2008 to the end of 2009, now shows that Horne’s sister Christine Newman , and her husband, Richard, each contributed $1,140 to his campaign during that timeframe.

But in a previous version of the report, filed in April 2010, the Newmans were each listed as giving only $840 to the campaign. The contributions were listed as individual contributions.

The revised report included the contributions under the “personal and family contributions” section of the report. Candidates and their family members — which include the spouses of immediate family, under Arizona law — are allowed to exceed the individual campaign contribution limit, which was $840 for statewide candidates in 2010.

According to records from the Secretary of State’s Office, the changes were made on March 23, five days after Don Dybus, a prosecutor with the attorney general’s Tucson office, informed Horne that he had filed a complaint with the secretary of state that spurred an investigation by the FBI.

The complaint, originally reported by the Arizona Capitol Times, alleges that Horne illegally collaborated with the independent expenditure committee, Business Leaders for Arizona, which received a

$115,000 contribution from Richard Newman in October 2010. The complaint also accuses Horne of trading BLA’s chairwoman a high-paying job at the Attorney General’s Office in exchange for her work on the independent expenditure committee.

Between March 23 and 26, Horne amended seven campaign finance reports, six of which were originally filed in 2010. The most recent report was originally filed in late January.

Most of the amendments added personal information about contributors, such as their occupations and employers. Arizona law requires that information to be included in campaign finance reports, and if contributors don’t provide it, committees are required to “exercise their best efforts” to obtain it, either through a written or oral request.

Horne spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said the attorney general did personal research and sent letters to contributors in 2011 to determine missing information. He accumulated the information and amended the reports all at once rather than repeatedly filing new changes, she said.

The additional $600 from the Newmans was the result of an accounting error by a campaign worker, Rezzonico said. She said the employer assumed that $300 from each would have to be refunded because the contributions exceeded the legal limit, and reported only $840 from each as a result.

Rezzonico said it’s a coincidence that the attorney general amended all the reports within days of receiving Dybus’ letter.

“This was a $600 error in an $800,000 campaign. None of this had anything to do with Dybus. It was information accumulated over a long period of time,” Rezzonico said.

Attorney Joe Kanefield, a former elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said it is common for candidates to amend their old reports to include personal information on contributors. The office encouraged committees to amend their reports whenever necessary, he said.

“I can’t recall a situation where a political committee amended all of its reports at one time, but it is certainly possible that it happened,” said Kanefield, of the firm Ballard Spahr.

But some campaign finance experts say it’s unusual to make so many amendments to that many campaign finance reports so long after an election.

“A year and a half later seems like a strange time to have all of a sudden come into this new information. If you had it earlier, you should have filed it earlier,” said Janna Day, an attorney and lobbyist with the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

“That seems strange.”

Day said the newly reported money from Horne’s sister and brother-in- law is also puzzling.

“Where was the money? Was the money spent? And if so, how was that accounted for, given that the first report showed it coming in at a lesser amount? Was there a corresponding offset in what was spent?”

she said. “In light of everything, to be going back and doing stuff 10 days ago, that’s strange.”

The Secretary of State’s Office did not return a call seeking comment.

On Feb. 21, about a week after Dybus filed his complaint to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, BLA also amended one of its 2010 campaign finance reports. The report, which covers mid-October to late November 2010, omitted $160,000 in debt to Lincoln Strategy Group, a political consulting firm hired by BLA to run attack ads against Felecia Rotellini, Horne’s Democratic opponent in the attorney general’s race.

George Wilkinson, who is listed as the chairman of BLA on campaign finance reports, said the recent change had nothing to do with any investigations involving the group. He said the Secretary of State’s Office erred in the way the debt was reported, and said the office finally changed it after repeated requests.

“They made a mistake on it from the first time that we submitted,”

Wilkinson said. “It had absolutely nothing to do with (the investigation).”

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