Tom Horne's Nightmare: Sheila Polk Rejects Findings of ALJ in Campaign Finance Case
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has rejected the findings of an administrative law judge in the campaign finance case against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, and reinstated her original order, demanding that Horne and AG outreach director Kathleen Winn reimburse donors $400,000.
In a decision filed Wednesday afternoon, Polk concluded "it is more probable than not that" Horne and Winn's phone calls and e-mails during the 2010 general election campaign constituted coordination, thereby rendering illegal most of the money raised on behalf of Winn's independent expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona.
Responding to the news, Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham indicated that Horne would appeal Polk's decision to the superior court and would not resign, despite calls from some that he do so.
Horne: facing a perfect storm of trouble
Tom Tingle/Arizona Republic/Pool Photo
"[A] county politician has foolishly ignored the ruling of an independent judge," Grisham stated. "She will undoubtedly lose on appeal. In the meantime, Attorney General Horne will continue the job he was elected to do."
Meaning that Horne will go right along, scamming the taxpayers and using the people's resources for his re-election effort.
Still, by this point, the AG must be punch-drunk.
Polk's roundhouse right to Horne's noggin comes after the drubbing he's been enduring this week from yet another scandal: This one involving ex-AG staffer Sarah Beattie and allegations that Horne's violating Arizona and perhaps federal law by running his campaign from his state office, with AG employees' doing political stuff on state time.
Beattie's allegations were submitted on Monday to the Arizona Secretary of State and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission in the form of a sworn affidavit and more than 146 pages of e-mails, documents, photos, and metadata.
All of it backing up Beattie's claim that "the AG's executive office is the campaign headquarters [for Horne]."
That file is now also in the hands of the FBI. The Arizona Capitol Times recently broke the news that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has a copy as well.
Beattie's attorney Tom Ryan praised Polk's decision. He said he thinks Beattie's coming forward nudged Polk toward a second bite at the apple.
"I have a firm belief that Sarah Beattie's affidavit helped push Sheila Polk in this direction," Ryan told me. "It certainly confirms what all rational people in the state of Arizona believe, and that is, Tom Horne and Kathleen Winn coordinated the campaign."
Polk does not mention the Beattie affair in her "final administrative decision in this matter."
Whether or not it influenced her, Ryan's filing of Beattie's complaint certainly gave the Republican county attorney political cover, if she needed it, to go after Horne again.
In the filing, Polk remains adamant in her disbelief of the story that Horne and Winn have told all along: That a mountain of phone calls between the two in the waning days of the 2010 campaign were about a pending real estate transaction for Horne, not the creation of an attack ad targeting Horne's 2010 Democratic rival, Felecia Rotellini.
"The [ALJ's] Decision concludes that the Order's inferences of coordination between Mr. Home and Ms. Winn based on the events of October 20, 2010 are plausible," Polk writes.
"The Decision further concludes that it was plausible that Mr. Home and Ms. Winn were instead discussing a pending real estate deal. [The Yavapai County Attorney] notes that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. Communications during telephone conversations can cover more than one topic."
Polk continues, stating that:
"On October 20, 2010, Mr. Home and Ms. Winn exchanged phone calls. [The] YCA concludes that the timing of those calls, together with the timing and content of Ms. Winn's e-mails to [political consultant] Mr. Brian Murray, show that Mr. Home contributed to BLA' s commercial.
"The preponderance of the evidence shows that Mr. Home and Ms. Winn coordinated to develop BLA's commercial on October 20, 2010, thus rendering BLA's expenditures non-independent from Mr. Home and his political campaign."
Regarding Winn's testimony during a three day hearing in February before Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer, Polk called out Winn as untruthful.
"Ms. Winn repeatedly changed her story throughout the progress of this case," Polk observes. "Her pattern of contradicting sworn affidavits to conform to newly revealed facts calls into question her credibility.
"Some portions of Ms. Winn's testimony regarding both the October 20, 2010 events and the October 27, 2010 e-mail from Mr. Horne do not stand up to scrutiny."
I contacted Winn, who was defiant in her reply.
"I told the truth," Winn maintained. "If [Polk] believes I am not credible, I will continue to stand up for the truth and know I am not going to be bullied by corrupt politics."
For his part, Horne's been known to ride out scandal and adversity. And politically, he retains the power of the incumbency.
But first Beattie's accusations, then Polk's revivification of Horne's campaign finance mess, leaves the AG engulfed in a putrid miasma of iniquity, one likely to repel donors not yet weary of Horne's lack of political hygiene.
Will Republicans really wanna back this guy against the Democratic powerhouse of Rotellini, whom Horne bested by a mere 60,000 votes statewide in 2010, and who has crossover appeal with Rs?
Or do GOPers place their bets on Horne's primary foe, Mark Brnovich, a relative newcomer, untainted by scandal, but untested in the field of battle?
Any way you slice it, Brnovich has got to like his odds better after the past few days, than he did before Beattie turned on Horne, right?
"You know, I'm Slavic, man," he cracked when I asked him this. "When things are going well, I always expect something bad to happen."
Nevertheless, he agreed that people are more likely to give him a second look now. Or a first look.
In general, he feels his call for integrity and accountability is resonating on the campaign trail.
"I couldn't help but think today about that line from Julius Caesar, one of my all-time favorites, 'The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves,'" he said. "At some point, Tom Horne needs to stop blaming everyone else for his problems and take a look in the mirror.
"I mean, he created a culture of corruption within the Attorney General's Office. He's put employees in a position where they have to choose between their livelihoods or personally serving him."
"The Attorney General's Office shouldn't be about some ego trip or personal aggrandizement, it should be about having a servant's heart and serving the people of Arizona. And if you don't understand that, you are not capable or qualified to be our Attorney General."
So, Horne should resign, right?
"You know, at one point, Tom Horne's people referred to me as a sparring partner," he explained. "Frankly, if this were a boxing match, his corner should be throwing in the towel."
Rotellini didn't go as far.
Instead, she issued a statement via her website, calling the matter "a legal issue," and saying Horne "has been held accountable and he needs to comply with this order."
Um, he ain't been held accountable, not quite yet.
And the only thing Horne'll be throwing is caution to the wind.
See, from his being banned from trading for life by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission till now, Horne's existence has been dedicated to one thing: cheating the executioner.
Like a base scoundrel in some picaresque 18th-century novel, Horne is forever in danger of falling naked into the moat of alligators, being flogged for swiping bread from a street urchin, or having his head lopped off for stealing the king's horses.
And yet, in the end, he's always survived, barely.
By all rights, he should go down and stay down. But I suspect, like many a rogue before him, he'll keep trying to shine on the guy in the black hood.
Right up till the moment the ax drops on his neck.
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