What will it take to rid Arizona's political scene of the man whom one wag I know has dubbed Sand Land's "Rasputin"?
Not the conclusion of a humble administrative law judge, that's for sure.
I'm not knocking ALJ Tammy Eigenheer, trier of fact in the campaign finance case against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and his outreach director, Kathleen Winn.
At least, I'm not knocking Eigenheer too much.
See, on Monday, Eigenheer concluded that the prosecution in the case "failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence" that Winn and Horne illegally coordinated during the 2010 general election campaign for attorney general.
At the time, Winn was running a pro-Horne independent expenditure committee, Business Leaders for Arizona, which produced an attack ad targeting Horne's Democratic foe, Felecia Rotellini.
Despite an FBI investigation, two county attorneys' conclusion that Horne and Winn broke the law, and records showing a mountain of telephone calls between the two, Eigenheer vacated an order by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, which instructed Horne and Winn to pay back $400,000 raised by BLA.
Basically, Eigenheer's judgment is a recommendation to Polk, one Polk can choose to accept, junk, or change.
Polk has 30 days, according to state statute, to pick a lane.
Meanwhile, Horne slithers away to fight another day.
To my mind, these campaign finance shenanigans have always been the least of Horne's sins.
Compared to hiring his mistress Carmen Chenal at a state salary of $108,000 per year, pulling a Nixon and investigating a supposed "leak" about that mistress, then suggesting that the investigative file be hidden or possibly destroyed, this campaign finance stuff pales.
The FBI had been looking at Horne for possible wire fraud, among other things, such as tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice.
While dogging him, FBI agents watched Horne pull the ultimate scumbag move as he and Chenal made an attempt at some Pita Jungle takeout and a stop-by her place for, well, use your imagination.
In the parking lot at Chenal's apartment, Horne hit a parked car and did not leave a note.
But the FBI was watching and Horne ended up pleading no contest and paying a fine for the misdemeanor criminal offense of vehicular hit-and-run.
Now would a man who pulled a hit-and-run with his on-the-payroll mistress in the car think twice about coordinating illegally during a political campaign?
There you have your answer as to Horne's guilt.
When it comes to our campaign finance laws, they are, if Eigenheer's judgment is to be believed, utterly unenforceable without telephone recordings and/or video of ne'er-do-wells in the midst of "coordinating."
According to an analysis by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, there was a spike of 87 phone calls totaling more than five hours between Winn and Horne during the time the anti-Rotellini ad was being crafted.
Horne and Winn would have us believe that most of these conversations were about a big real estate deal Horne had brewing.
Never mind that Horne already had a real estate broker -- Greg Tatham, husband of Horne's former flack Amy Rezzonico, who recently has been rehired by the AG to do collections for the office.
None of the documents pertaining to the land deal mentioned Winn. She wasn't even cc'd in any of Horne's 129 e-mails on the transaction.
And when the FBI asked Tatham whether he knew of anyone else advising Horne, Tatham said he did not.
But Eigenheer concludes that there's no way to disprove the contention that Winn and Horne were discussing a real estate transaction.
She points out in her decision that "the Yavapai County Attorney's Office acknowledged that it had no knowledge or evidence as to the content of the telephone conversations between Ms. Winn and Mr. Horne."
The YCAO instead drew "inferences" based on the timing of the calls and Winn's e-mail exchanges with her campaign consultant.
Winn was talking to Horne about the attack ad, the YCAO asserted.
While these inferences are "plausible," according to Eigenheer, so are other explanations given by Winn and Horne.
So she lets Winn and Horne off the hook.
Remember, this was a civil, not criminal matter. The YCAO merely had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Horne and Winn coordinated.
It's almost as if we have a cop's testimony of a drug deal. The cop saw drugs being traded for a paper bag, apparently stuffed with cash.
But the defense argues that the bag was full of lollipops, not Benjamins. As absurd as this sounds, it cannot be disproved.
It's an imperfect analogy. The standard of proof is much higher in a criminal trial, for instance.
Suffice it to say that in this civil matter, if behavior as egregious as Horne's cannot be found in violation of the law, then we might as well strike those laws from the books.
It's now left to County Attorney Polk to demonstrate to the public whether or not these campaign finance laws regarding coordination are worth the paper they're printed on.
Eigenheer's ruling is, in many ways, infuriating. But then, I suppose it was far too much to expect that a lowly ALJ would kneecap the state's powerful Attorney General.
Making matters tougher for Eigenheer, Horne and Winn brought in heavy firepower in the form of a "dream team" of top legal beagles, including renowned defense attorneys Mike Kimerer and Larry Debus.
A lot the legal Silly Putty they threw at the wall didn't stick, but just enough did to make their presence worthwhile for Horne and Winn.
Was Horne exonerated? Oh, hell no. Not by a long shot.
One can hope Polk will act in accordance with the complaint her office initially lodged against Horne and Winn.
Whether or not she does, it's left to Horne's challengers -- Democrat Rotellini and Republican Mark Brnovich -- and the electorate, to rid us of Rasputin.
"I'm not going to second guess a judge or jury on the specifics of a case," Brnovich said of the ruling, in a statement issued by his campaign.
"I trust they did what they felt they had to do. Given the continuing list of allegations against Mr. Horne and his embarrassments though, I believe the voters will do what they need to do in August."
Rotellini spokesman Luis Heredia commented in part that, "One thing is clear: Tom Horne's conduct in office continues to disappoint citizens, law enforcement, and the veteran prosecutors he's supposed to supervise."
Unfortunately, what's obvious to most observers may not be obvious to all who vote. So the electorate will need to be reminded, over and over again, that Horne is a corrupt skirt-chasing scoundrel who cannot be trusted in public office.
Otherwise, Horne's trail of slime will continue for another four years of scandal, lies, cheating, dirty tricks, and turning the AG's Office into a house of prostitution.
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Talk about making Rasputin proud.
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