Attorney General Tom Horne paid a $10,000 fine to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, officially ending the agency’s investigation into allegations that he illegally had Attorney General’s Office employees working on his re-election during work hours.
The commission at its Nov. 20 meeting voted unanimously to accept the settlement, which was recommended by Executive Director Tom Collins. Collins said $10,000 is the maximum fine the commission can assess for a violation of its rules, though not for violations of statute.
Collins estimated that Horne used about $300,000 worth of state resources in his campaign, which was not listed in campaign finance reports. Had he not accepted a settlement, Horne could have faced a fine of up to three times that amount.
The conciliation agreement had several important aspects besides the fine, Collins told the commission. He said it reaffirms that Horne’s employees at the Attorney General’s Office cannot campaign on state time. And Horne will have to file amended campaign finance reports if a separate investigation by Gilbert’s town attorney and a retired judge determine he must do so.
Collins said the settlement refutes Horne’s argument that the commission lacks jurisdiction to investigate and penalize him because he was not a Clean Elections candidate, and that Horne is withdrawing his lawsuit challenging the commission’s authority. He had filed a request for special action with the Arizona Supreme Court after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled the commission does, in fact, have jurisdiction over privately funded candidates such as Horne.
Collins acknowledged that the agreement did not require Horne to admit guilt. But he said the settlement is substantial and significant.
“The public’s interest is secured. The commission’s interest in ensuring the Clean Elections Act is enforced and recognized, and that state employees cannot campaign on state time, are all acknowledged here. So the agreement speaks for itself,” Collins told the commission. “And I would say that anything else you hear today is spin.”
Horne has long denied the allegations lodged by former staffer Sarah Beattie, who claimed that she and other employees routinely conducted campaign work for Horne’s re-election on state time. Even after signing the agreement, Horne was defiant, referring to the fine as a “nuisance settlement” compared to the $300,000 violation claimed by the commission.
“There is no admission of guilt because there is no truth to the claims made by a disgruntled employee,” Horne said in a press statement. “I want to be clear that these allegations were not true. They were created by a person with a history of making false claims when leaving other employers. I am very pleased to have this behind me.”
Horne’s troubles from Beattie’s allegations may not be over yet. An investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is pending.
“This doesn’t have any effect on any future civil or criminal investigation,” Collins said.
Horne is also appealing a judgment by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office that he illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee during his first run for attorney general in 2010. He and aide Kathleen Winn could face up to $1.2 million in fines.
And of course, Horne has already paid dearly at the polls for Beattie’s complaint and other allegations against him. He lost his re-election bid when defeated in the Republican primary by Mark Brnovich, who went on to win the general election in the attorney general’s race.