Former AG Horne won’t face criminal charges

But that doesn’t mean he’s free and clear of other election-related allegations of impropriety

Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne

Photo by Doug McMurdo.

Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne

PHOENIX – Former Attorney General Tom Horne won’t face criminal charges in connection with his alleged use of state employees in his unsuccessful 2014 re-election campaign.

A spokeswoman for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery confirmed Friday that the office has dropped the probe it began more than a year ago.

“We determined there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction on felony charges,’’ said Amanda Jacinto. “And it was past the statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges.’’

“We are pleased that the county attorney decided to drop these baseless charges,’’ said Dennis Wilenchik, Horne’s attorney. “They must have concluded this was not a winnable case based on all the evidence that we have seen and are aware of.’’

The decision marks the second inquiry into Horne’s conduct that is now closed. He previously agreed to pay $10,000 out of his own pocket to settle claims by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission that asserted he used more than $300,000 worth of state employee time and rent in the campaign.

But Horne still could face legal problems from a third investigation into the same campaign that remains outstanding.

That is based on the findings by the secretary of state’s office that workers at Horne’s office “were not volunteering, but instead were being compensated by the state of Arizona while conducting campaign activities for Mr. Horne.” That includes the use of state computers to prepare campaign finance materials on state time.

Those allegations were farmed out by the attorney general’s office to Daniel Barker, a retired Court of Appeals judge, and Gilbert City Attorney Michael Hamblin, because it was current Attorney General Mark Brnovich who defeated Horne in the 2014 Republican primary and then went on to win the general election.

All three probes revolve around the same allegations leveled by Sarah Beattie, a staffer in Horne’s office, who said she worked on his re-election bid while on state time and used state resources. Beattie also said she observed others doing similar work.

Horne has repeatedly denied the charges. And he separately attacked Beattie’s character, calling her “a woman who has a history of making claims when she leaves employers.’’

But others who looked at the facts found a basis for Beattie’s claims.

For example, Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, cited an April 2014 campaign meeting where, with the exception of a paid out-of-state media consultant, all 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 concluded. He said there were “seamless operations between the state agency and the campaign “at the highest levels,’’ including fundraising.

Collins said that means Horne effectively took donations from state taxpayers, violating laws that prohibit the use of public funds for campaigning. On top of that, Horne did not report the value of the donations as legally required on campaign finance reports.

The case before Barker and Hamblin stem from findings by Jim Drake, who was assistant secretary of state at the time. Drake found that Horne’s protestations that Beattie’s allegations were false were not backed up by the evidence.

For example, he said Horne provided no evidence to dispute Beattie’s allegations that she personally worked on the campaign during regular hours, instead providing only “general statements’’ from him and others that they “were unaware of her campaign work on state time.’’

Drake also said Horne admitted discussing an upcoming fundraiser with Beattie and others during work hours, but said that discussion took less than five minutes.

“Additionally, he only addressed the discussion as ‘political water cooler talk’ and did not respond to the allegation that campaign assignments were tasked to the employees during this discussion and the expected deadline for staff to complete this task,’’ Drake wrote in his findings.

Horne still faces separate legal problems stemming from his first campaign in 2010.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said Horne aide Kathleen Winn was supposed to be running a separate, independent campaign on Horne’s behalf. But Polk said there was evidence of coordination on how those funds were spent, something that is illegal because Winn’s committee, Business Leaders for Arizona, was supposed to operate independent of Horne.

Both a trial judge and the state Court of Appeals upheld Polk’s findings and her order that he refund three times the roughly $400,000 illegally collected. Horne now is seeking state Supreme Court review.