Tom Horne will pay $10,000 out of his own pocket to end an investigation into whether he illegally used staffers at the Attorney General’s Office in his reelection campaign.
The deal, set for review Thursday by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, ends the chance that Horne could be liable for close to $1 million in penalties amid allegations that the “volunteers” for his Republican primary fight were not really volunteers at all but instead employees at the state agency.
That is based on a conclusion by Thomas Collins, the commission’s executive director, that Horne used more than $300,000 worth of state employee time and rent in his unsuccessful race.
More to the point for the commission, that amount was not reported on his campaign finance forms. And state law allows penalties up to three times the unreported amount.
Under the terms of the settlement, Horne has to pay the fine himself. He cannot seek reimbursement from any political committee or legal defense fund.
Press aide Stephanie Grisham said Horne will have no comment until after the commission’s vote Thursday.
The inquiry began with a complaint by Sarah Beattie, a former AG’s office staffer, that she had worked on his re-election bid and saw other staffers do the same on state time.
In his initial findings, Collins cited an April campaign meeting where, with the exception of a paid out-of-state media consultant, all of those in attendance were employees of the office.
“This evidence further supports the inference that ‘volunteer’ work was performed in exchange for compensation, and that employees agreed to provide their services free of charge to the campaign because they were employees of the attorney general,” Collins wrote in his September recommendation to the commission. “There were seamless operations between the Attorney General’s Office executive office and the Horne campaign at the highest levels including management, strategy, technology, communications, field work and fundraising.”
What all that means, Collins said, is Horne effectively took illegal donations from state taxpayers.
He said that is legally no different from a private corporation paying its employees to “volunteer’’ for a politician’s campaign, which would make the politician the beneficiary of illegal corporate donations.s