I officially take back everything bad I've said about this state's Clean Elections laws.
Well, almost. Because there's no way in hell that a loser like disbarred ex-county attorney Andrew Thomas should be awarded three-quarters of a million dollars in public cash, as could happen during this election cycle.
Still, I'm more bullish on the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission after it unanimously voted on Wednesday to authorize an inquiry into Attorney General Tom Horne for (allegedly) operating his re-election campaign out of his public office.
During the June 19 hearing, a quorum of four commissioners -- two Republicans, one Independent, and a Democrat (via phone) -- dismissed the arguments of Horne's attorney Sandra Slaton, who contended that Horne's accuser, former AG staffer Sarah Beattie, was not credible, and further, that the commission itself did not have jurisdiction over the matter.
Slaton was referring to a law passed by the legislature this year, which attempts to restrict the authority of the commission to only those candidates who, unlike Horne, accept public financing.
But the commission rejected both of those arguments. Chairman Timothy Reckart noted that the argument regarding the commission's authority was something that might be raised at a later date. As to the underlying facts, that's what an investigation would determine.
"What you've said isn't sufficient for me to say, `Well, there's no basis for an inquiry,'" said Reckart, a Pima County Republican. "We're not making any disposition here as to the substance of the complaint...This is merely to decide whether or not to go ahead with an inquiry."
His fellow commissioners agreed.
Maricopa County Republican Mitchell Laird stated that if Beattie's affidavit were true, "then there would be a violation of the campaign election laws."
Thomas Koester, a Pima County Independent, seemed to go even further in his remarks, finding the complaint, submitted to the commission by Beattie's attorney Tom Ryan, to be credible.
"The overwhelming amount of evidence suggests the possibility, at least, of some irregularities," Koestner commented. "And the testimony of a person who has previous experience in campaigns leads me to believe that it's not just an incident. It's something that's gone on for some time."
In case you didn't know, the ACCEC is empowered by voter-protected legislation to fine or disqualify rule-breaking candidates, or even remove an incumbent from office in certain instances. Its investigative authority includes subpoena power.
Collins' 12-page recommendation in favor of the probe notes that Horne's written response to Beattie's complaint "does not resolve" the issues raised, but instead "lends support to the complaints' claims or supports the inference that campaign finance violations may have occurred."
Collins makes an observation I've made more than once: that Horne's excuses are actually admissions, with Horne soft-pedaling what likely are violations of federal and state law.
It's a pattern Collins sees over and over again when he compares Beattie's complaint to Horne's response.
So often, in fact, that he creates a table illustrating some of the issues at hand.
Take, for example, Beattie's allegation regarding Horne's three-ring binder of potential campaign donors to hit up. Beattie says Horne gave her the binder to solicit contributions on state time, and that she watched Horne make calls from the binder in the AG's office.
Horne claims this all took place at an "off-site location," an office at the Arizona Rock Products Association.
Well, almost all of it.
"Systematically making calls from this binder was something I only did at the off-site location, and never from my own office," Horne says in his response. "I did make occasional calls on my personal cell phone from my office to people with whom I had a personal relationship, who could have also been donors." (Italics added.)
Collins observes that Horne's reply "confirms the basic facts of complainant's statement" and "leaves only the ...question of the degree of campaign work."
And so it goes. For instance, Beattie alleges that Horne pulled staffers into meetings on his campaign rivals during work hours, and that she and other staffers had a meeting at the AG's office to discuss a fundraiser for Horne.
Horne's response? It was all "water-cooler talk."
Which, as Collins points out, follows the AG's standard pattern of admit and minimize.
Horne's propensity for digging his own political grave even deeper extends to his attorney Slaton as well, who during the hearing, claimed Beattie "stole" the Border Patrol book with Horne's contributors' list.
But wasn't the book given to her by Horne?
"If I give an employee my credit card to use," Slaton told a scrum of reporters after the hearing, "as I often do, to codify a filing transaction with the court, I don't expect that employee to take that credit card home with her and then give it to the press."
"Employee"? Isn't that exactly the point, that Horne gave the book to a state "employee," at his office, where he kept the book?
Why was the book in Horne's office to begin with? Slaton compared it to her having her purse at the office.
Where did Horne give the book to Beattie? Slaton couldn't say.
Beattie told me that Horne gave the book to her at the AG's office, and she forgot to give it back.
Tough to claim theft on that one, but Horne's trying.
In fact, Horne recently contacted Ryan via e-mail, demanding the book back. Ryan shared with me the following hilarious exchange between himself and the AG.
From: Tom Horne for Attorney General [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 9:28 AM To: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a demand for return of my notebook with lists of donors and my personal notes. Your client Sarah Beattie was to return this about half a year ago and did not. This is the notebook you posed with for the New Times. If you do not resond [sic] within one week it will be assumed you are refusing this demand.
From: email@example.com Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:03 AM To: Tom Horne for Attorney General Subject: RE: return of notebook
Dear Mr. Horne: This notebook was turned over to the FBI. Please see the attached evidence receipt. Sincerely, Tom Ryan
Needless to say, there was no further response from Horne. Ryan says he anticipates the possibility that Horne may attempt a criminal complaint, as ludicrous as that sounds.
"Let's just take his theory that it's stolen goods," Ryan told me recently. "And I turn it over to law enforcement, how have I engaged in theft?"
Anyway you slice it, Beattie had been granted the authority to have the book in her possession by Horne.
Plus, Ryan told me, what law enforcement agency is going to take that complaint? Horne's own?
As a side note, in interviews that Horne gave to local media from his office, after Beattie's complaint dropped on May 12, on a shelf behind him can be seen a white, three-ring binder with what looks like the label "Border Patrol."
Did Horne create another duplicate donor's book?
Horne's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham assured me that this was not the case. She says she looked through the book in question, and that it actually pertains to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Since Clean Elections has subpoena power, perhaps the commission should put the "new" Border Patrol book on its wish list.
Speaking of subpoenas, at the hearing, I happened to recognize Commander Mark Stribling in the audience. Stribling is the top investigator over at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
After the hearing, I approached Stribling to ask why he was there. He declined to comment.
Similarly, when asked, MCAO spokesman Jerry Cobb would not comment on Stribling's presence.
Since it's been reported that the county attorney has a copy of Beattie's complaint, I asked for the status of the investigation.
"Steve, we don't confirm, deny or comment on possible ongoing investigations we or other agencies may be involved in," Cobb replied.
It should be remembered that the FBI and the MCAO partnered on the investigation of Horne that resulted in the initial campaign finance complaint against Horne and AG outreach coordinator Kathleen Winn.
And we know that the FBI also has a copy of the complaint, as well as of Horne's notebook.
That would make three agencies investigating Horne; four if you count the Yavapai County Attorney's office, which is going after Horne and his henchwoman Winn for $400,000.
It's not a stretch to assume that if a grand jury has not already been convened on Horne, either in county or federal courts, that there will be one or more soon enough.
As for the ACCEC, look for Horne's camp to seek to quash any subpoenas issued in its investigation.
Slaton and other Horne-ites will argue that Senate Bill 1344, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in April, limits the commission's authority, so it covers only non-participating candidates.
But as executive director Collins and ACCEC's attorney Joseph Kanefield (former General Counsel to Gov. Brewer) indicated in a letter to Brewer earlier this year requesting her veto, SB 1344 is "in violation of the Voter Protection Act," which requires that any such changes "must receive a three-fourths vote in the Legislature and further the purpose of the Clean Elections Act."
Which won't stop Horne and his crew from making the challenge, even if that challenge ends in the courts' deciding the matter once and for all in the commission's favor.
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Meanwhile, Horne's political demise continues to be an excruciatingly slow burn, one I hope is hurried along by indictments.
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