How bad would things have to get for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to do the right thing and resign?
You'd think pleading no contest to a vehicular hit-and-run witnessed by two FBI agents who'd been tailing him would be enough, at least for the state's top prosecutor.
Then there's the near-universal knowledge that Horne hired his alleged mistress Carmen Chenal for a $108K-a-year job at the AG's Office, ordered an agency-wide investigation to plug assumed leaks about that affair, and allegedly discussed a cover-up that would have involved destruction of public records and obstruction of justice.
Alleged witness tampering came later, after the FBI probe began.
And now, for the second time, an Arizona county attorney has found that Horne and his political ally-turned-AG outreach director Kathleen Winn, violated state campaign finance law, coordinating Horne's 2010 campaign for attorney general with Winn's supposedly "independent" expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona.
On Thursday, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk -- whose reputation as a prosecutor is sterling -- concluded her examination of the Horne-Winn case, which arrived on her desk via a long and winding road, meandering through the Secretary of State's Office to County Attorney Bill Montgomery to an administrative law judge, on to superior court, back to the SOS, then to the Solicitor General (who works for the AG), and finally to Polk.
In her order of compliance, Polk finds that "BLA and Winn coordinated their activities with Horne and the Horne campaign" as a means to an end: defeating Horne's Democratic opponent in the general election. And this coordination "resulted in violations of Arizona campaign finance law."
Basically, Polk says that Winn -- now outreach director for the AG -- was taking orders from Horne while pretending to be an independent player. Meanwhile, BLA and the Horne campaign were one and the same.
So, individual donations to BLA that exceeded state contribution limits for candidates were illegal. Ditto corporate contributions, as candidates cannot accept contributions from corporations, according to state law.
Of the more than $500,000 raised by the BLA, Polk orders Winn and Horne to refund $397,378 in the next 20 days or face a possible civil penalty of three times the amount, which would be more than $1 million.
But Horne and Winn can request a hearing before the 20 days are up, which they have indicated to the media they will do, further delaying the conclusion of this repulsive, infuriating scandal.
Sound like Groundhog Day all over again? That's because we went through this last year about this same time, when Monty decided not to pursue criminal charges in the matter and instead sought a civil remedy.
Then as now, Horne and Winn rejected any payback of funds, challenging the order in an administrative hearing, which at that time crumbled because certain legal niceties were not observed.
Horne's 2014 GOP primary opponent, Arizona Gaming Director Mark Brnovich, was measured in his response to the Polk decision.
"Horne should set an example of ethical conduct and comply with the order," he told me. "At the end of the day, we need an attorney general candidate who upholds our state laws, not one who is accused of violating them."
Preach it, brother.
If Horne makes it past Brnovich next year, he's looking at a general election rematch with the woman he ripped off by 63,000 votes in 2014, Felecia Rotellini. I say ripped off because, if Horne had not cheated (allegedly), he likely would have lost.
In response to the Polk decision, the Rotellini camp issued a statement from spokesman Rodd McLeod. In it, McLeod pummeled Horne for his unlawful activity and lack of ethics.
"The investigation into Horne's illegal independent expenditure committee," McLeod said in the release, "an investigation conducted by a Republican prosecutor -- details beyond all doubt that Tom Horne flouted Arizona's elections laws and personally conducted a smear campaign using hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to win our race in 2010."
"This illegal conduct wouldn't be acceptable from any candidate and it is certainly unacceptable from the state's top law enforcement official."
McLeod said Horne should pay back the loot and apologize to the state's voters, which is about as likely to happen as Horne's resigning.
Horne is like a particularly virulent foot fungus, one so bad you practically would have to set your feet ablaze to be rid of it.
Polk's contempt for Horne and Winn's activities is palpable at times. Using the well-worn record against them, Polk refers to phone records and e-mails revealed in the FBI's investigative file, which was made public in 2012 after the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute.
One set of records concerns conversations between Winn and Horne and messages e-mailed between Winn and campaign consultant Brian Murray. This as Murray and Winn were creating a TV ad attacking Rotellini, an ad financed by Winn's BLA.
You can read the details for yourself in Polk's order, but Polk concludes that when Winn referred to "we" in her e-mails to Murray, Winn meant herself and Horne, with whom she was constantly on and off the phone, in between e-mailing Murray.
In one e-mail, Winn told Murray that she had several "masters" to please.
"The reasonable conclusion," Polk states, "is that at least one of Winn's 'masters' was Horne."
Polk believes that Winn was Horne's go-between, relaying messages from Horne to Murray about the specifics of the advertisement.
[D]uring her email exchanges with Murray, Winn admitted that she had 'several masters,' that 'we' have problems, and that 'they' don't like the script. Winn almost always consulted with Horne prior to instructing Murray. When a decision was finally made, Winn stated she 'prevailed.' The notion that she 'prevailed' means that she had to persuade someone to her point of view, which in turn means someone else was making final decisions regarding the [ad's] script.
The only other person Winn spoke with during that time who could have contributed to the advertisement was Horne. No other conclusion can be drawn other than Horne himself was the final authority approving the political content of the anti-Rotellini advertisement purchased by BLA. Winn's primary contribution was to convey Horne's decisions to Murray. the records reflect that Winn and Horne coordinated their efforts on the anti-Rotellini advertisement because Horne was in fact in control of the content of BLA's anti-Rotellini advertisement.
Polk deftly uses Occam's razor to slice to the simplest explanation, the only one that makes any real sense: that Winn and Horne coordinated their activities.
To this end, the county attorney references an e-mail from Horne to Winn, which Winn dutifully sent to Murray, conveying a message from a pollster. Horne was using the info in an apparent attempt to pry more cash out of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which already had dumped $350K into BLA's kitty.
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All of this is damning and, to be truthful, info that's been pored over, waded through, and regurgitated numerous times by reporters and investigators.
And yet, Horne continues to slither away from any responsibility for his actions. Nailing pudding to a park bench would be easier.
Will Horne use another of his nine lives to outlive Polk's order? His lawyer just happens to be the great Michael Kimerer, the attorney who sprang Debra Milke from death row, at least for the time being. So anything is possible.
Particularly for a politician in Arizona, where corruption is as common and as apt to be ignored as paloverde trees.