It ain't 2014 yet, and already Attorney General Tom Horne is taking it on the chin in a new TV ad, demanding that he return the nearly $400,000 in donations that two county attorneys say were improperly used on Horne's behalf in his successful 2010 general election run against Democratic foe Felecia Rotellini.
The Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, a conservative-leaning 501c4, began running the ad on Fox News this Friday, targeting Horne's notorious absence of ethics, specifically the allegation that in 2010 he illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee headed by supporter Kathleen Winn, now Horne's outreach director at the AG's office.
"Attorney General Tom Horne, we trusted him to enforce Arizona's laws," the ad begins, "but Tom Horne does not even follow Arizona's laws himself."
The 30-second spot urges viewers to call Horne's office and tell him, "It's time to return the illegal money."
Additionally, the ad pimps the website unethicalhorne.com, which refers to Horne as, "An Embarrassment to Arizona," and asks readers to sign a petition ordering Horne to give back the loot.
The ad also indicates that, "Now Tom Horne is under an FBI investigation," referring to a 2012 story regarding that probe, during which Horne was shadowed by FBI agents looking into the possibility that he had obstructed justice and tampered with witnesses as part of a cover-up.
Most embarrassingly, FBI agents witnessed Horne engage in a vehicular hit and run at the apartment complex where his alleged mistress Carmen Chenal lived. Horne, who is married, had hired Chenal to an Assistant AG's job at a salary of $108,000 a year.
Chenal has since left the AG's office and is now working for Horne-supporter Dennis Wilenchik's law firm. Horne pleaded no contest to the hit and run and paid a $300 fine.
Thing is, in October of last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office released a statement saying that, "The U.S. Attorney's Office has no ongoing investigation regarding Tom Horne."
Typically, the FBI will neither confirm or deny if an investigation is ongoing, but last year, the FBI turned its investigative file on Horne over to the office of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who subsequently made it public after deciding not to go after Horne criminally.
Instead, Monty sought a civil sanction, specifically, that Horne pay back the ill-gotten booty.
When I spoke to former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton last year about the Horne saga, he told me that, "It is unusual for the FBI to share its investigative reports . . . if there's going to be a future federal prosecution on those same issues."
Nevertheless, the ad is a solid hit from an organization that in the past has gone after shadier members of the GOP clan, such as Republican Congressman Matt Salmon and former Justice of the Peace and onetime candidate for Maricopa County supervisor Lester Pearce.
AZPIA's attorney Kory Langhofer said the initial ad buy was for $50,000, but that AZPIA intends to keep up the campaign "for the next several months."
Regarding the claim that the FBI is still investigating, Langhofer said he believed it was accurate, as AZPIA had contacted the agency, and it gave the standard line about neither confirming or denying an investigation.
"We've done what we can to see if it is concluded," said Langhofer. "I'm currently aware of no reason to believe it is concluded."
Langhofer stressed that AZPIA is unique in that its director and officers do not draw a salary, unlike other 501c4 non-profits.
I asked if it was fair to characterize AZPIA as a conservative outfit.
"The majority of the people they've criticized have been Republicans," conceded Langhofer. "They're conservative, but not in the sense that they're anti-liberal. They're conservative in the sense they want to keep integrity in the conservative movement."
One AZPIA insider and staunch Republican who did not wish to be named was more blunt.
"We go after douchebags wherever we find them," he said.
The insider noted recent remarks by Horne, bragging about his early lead in the polls (based on a months-old survey), and stating that, ""I don't think technical campaign violations move a lot of voters."
This same source indicated that, according to polling he'd seen, Horne's support drops significantly once people are informed of his negatives.
The message to Horne from the GOPers in AZPIA, said the insider, is that "people do care" about Horne's indiscretions.
There are, however, some who don't, such as High Ground's Chuck Coughlin, whose outfit continues to raise money for the AG, as can be evidenced by the name of High Ground's Kate Fassett on the donation form accompanying an invite, soliciting cash for Horne in advance of a November 12, fundraiser for the AG at the Beus Gilbert Law Firm.
And guess who's a co-host? None other than Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms, who also supported Horne in 2010.
Simms, also a big supporter of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has been a subject of mine and my colleagues in the past.
Way back in 2008, New Times scribe Sarah Fenske reported the following concerning Mr. Simms:
"As we reported a few years ago, back in California, Simms admitted to bribing a coastal commissioner and "lent large sums of money" to a "mob frontman" named Alan Glick. (Glick, it should be noted, was the inspiration for Mr. Green, played by Kevin Pollak, in Martin Scorsese's Casino.) "
Can you judge a man by the company he keeps? I mean, I recently noted that some of the same folks who contributed to Winn's IA in 2010, specifically attorney Mark Goldman and former Governor Fife Symington, were back at it, raising dough for the AG.
Coughlin told me in September that he wasn't working for Horne, he was just having Fassett help out Fife, who's tight with Horne.
And here she is again, doing same.
So if Coughlin's High Ground isn't working for Horne, what do you call this, indentured servitude?
Or maybe Coughlin's just being magnanimous, like a Roman senator of old, lending another senator one of his slaves.
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Symington, Simms, Coughlin, Goldman, Horne: Talk about a rogues gallery! Now if they can raise Dick Nixon, Jeff Groscost and Ev Mecham from the dead, Horne's hall of infamy practically will be complete.
Meanwhile, Horne and Winn are appealing the recent decision of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who agreed with Montgomery's original finding: Horne broke the law and must pay back the cash or face a triple fine.
The hearings are set for January. Hopefully, Horne's lawyers will drag out the inevitable, at least till next fall. November would be best.