Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's big press conference this morning alleged illegal coordination between Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and an independent expenditure committee during his 2010 campaign.
See also: -Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba -Tom Horne's Pal Carmen Chenal's Bar File Partially Sealed by Judge -Carmen Chenal Overwhelmed as Tom Horne Pulls an Andy Thomas on Redistricting -Tom Horne's Female Trouble: Kathleen Winn Not "the Mole"
Please also see update below, after the jump.
My pals in the Fourth Estate were in a feeding frenzy at the presser over this alleged civil violation, of a kind routinely committed in Arizona politics. Supposedly, the FBI spent 11 months looking into the allegations, which are as boring as watching trees grow.
But what I find more interesting than the supposed election law shenanigans -- the sort of hjinks normally overlooked by the FBI and the county attorney in our recent past -- is the following line from Montgomery's press release on the scandal du jour:
"The investigation also uncovered evidence of a misdemeanor vehicular hit-and-run incident, which was referred to the City of Phoenix for review."
According to the Phoenix Police Department, Horne was the driver of the vehicle, and according to my sources, Horne was being followed by FBI investigators when the run-in occurred.
This is the terse statement issued by the PPD after Montgomery's presser:
"The Phoenix Police Department is investigating a Hit-and Run collision, property damage only, which is alleged to have occurred on March 27, 2012 at approximately 12:45 P.M., at 202 West Roosevelt Street. The investigation was turned over to the Phoenix Police Department by the Federal Bureau of Investigations on October 1, 2012 and involves Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne. The investigation is expected to take several weeks to complete."
That address also happens to be the address of a condominium complex at which Assistant Attorney General Carmen Chenal apparently resided, and may still reside.
For instance, it's the address listed for her in a 2010 campaign contribution that she made for Margaret Dugan, who was at the time running in the Republican primary for state school's superintendent.
Also, I just drove by the condo, and there is a "Chenal, C" listed for the building.
My sources tell me that Horne was on his lunch break at the time and backed into the unoccupied vehicle. He apparently left without leaving a note for the driver.
In 2011, I wrote at length about Chenal being hired for a post in the criminal division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office, despite her lack of experience in criminal law and despite the fact that she had been suspended by the state Bar of Arizona, and only recently had been reinstated.
What I did not address were allegations that Horne was engaged in a longstanding affair with Chenal that stretched back to their time at the Arizona Department of Education, when Horne was Superintendent.
Horne's spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico told me that she didn't know if Horne was with Chenal at the time of the accident. She claimed the Attorney General was parked in a public lot at the address so that he could eat at a nearby Pita Jungle.
She said Horne didn't know that he had bumped into the vehicle, and that he was "happy to pay" for any damage. Horne sent a message to the county attorney to this effect, she said, after being informed of the accident.
"Carmen Chenal and Tom Horne have been friends for a very long time," Rezzonico stated when I asked if the two had ever been in an affair. "She worked at the Superintendent's [office] and she also works at the Attorney General's Office. I'm not aware of anything other than they're friends."
Over time, multiple sources have alleged to me that Horne and Chenal are an item. One source even claimed to have spotted Horne coming out of Chenal's apartment.
Horne is married. Chenal is divorced. Her ex-husband Tom Chenal also works at the AG's office.
So what, you might ask? Well, my initial story about Horne and Chenal is what prompted Horne to order an internal investigation into who my source was for the story.
Suspicion quickly fell on Kathleen Winn, the AG's outreach director. As I've written in the past, though I've spoken to Winn on a number of occasions, she was not a source for that story. In fact, everything in the original piece about Horne and Chenal came from public records.
And yet, the investigator seeking out this non-existent mole in the AG's office ended up turning whistleblower, and handing off to the FBI allegations regarding Horne and an independent expenditure committee run in 2010 by Winn.
Needless to say, if I had never written about Chenal or inquired of her at the AG's office, the Attorney General would not have the tsouris he has now.
Montgomery's press release and the response from the AG's office are below. I'll have more to say about the campaign finance allegations in a subsequent blog post.
But I do find it more than a little annoying that the FBI's Special Agent in Charge James Turgal was able to make this press briefing by Montgomery, but was nowhere to be found when the U.S. Attorney's Office dropped the ball on the criminal investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his office.
Which is more outrageous, the feds ending the criminal probe into Arpaio or anything alleged of Horne in this mess?
I'm sure you can guess my thoughts.
County Attorney Announces Civil Enforcement Action against Tom Horne and Kathleen Winn for Campaign Finance Violations
PHOENIX, AZ (October 1, 2012) - Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is initiating a civil enforcement action against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Kathleen Winn, General Director of Community Outreach for the Attorney General's Office, for alleged campaign finance violations committed during the 2010 election cycle. The allegations stem from an 11 month-long FBI investigation into Business Leaders for Arizona (BLA), an independent expenditure committee chaired by Winn and operated in close coordination with Horne in violation of A.R.S. § 16-917. The investigation also uncovered evidence of a misdemeanor vehicular hit-and-run incident, which was referred to the City of Phoenix for review.
"While various alleged details of this investigation have been shared with several media outlets by people not conducting the investigation, the conduct of this investigation is an example of how sensitive matters should be dealt with: conclusions reserved after all facts and circumstances have been determined, dispassionate review of evidence, and decisions made to further the interests of justice without political consideration," said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. "The conduct in question is expressly prohibited by Arizona's election laws and we will work to hold those responsible accountable," he added.
According to the results of the FBI's investigation, Horne actively directed BLA's fundraising and communications strategy with Winn in the final weeks of his 2010 campaign for Attorney General. During this time period, BLA raised more than $500,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee and individual donors which paid for television advertisements advocating against Felicia Rotellini, Horne's Democrat opponent.
After reviewing the investigation, Secretary of State Ken Bennett determined there was reasonable cause to believe Horne and Winn's actions violated civil statutes governing independent expenditures, and directed the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to initiate an enforcement action pursuant to its statutory authority. The County Attorney intends to issue an order requiring compliance by BLA and the Tom Horne for Attorney General campaign committee, followed by an order assessing a civil penalty. The penalty for violating A.R.S. § 16-917 is three times the cost of the literature or advertisement that was distributed.
In August 2012, the County Attorney initiated a separate civil enforcement action against the Committee for Justice and Fairness, an independent expenditure committee that paid for commercials advocating against Tom Horne's candidacy for Attorney General and which failed to register with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. Oral argument in this matter is scheduled for October 8, 2012.
PRESS STATEMENT FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
The charges regarding the 2010 election are totally false. There was no coordination between the campaign and the independent campaign. The law permits people to have contact, so long as there is no coordination or direction of the expenditure by the candidate, which there was not in this case. This will be completely proven to be true during the legal process.
The chairman of the independent campaign, Kathleen Winn, chose from whom to request contributions, made the requests, chose the consultant, prepared the ad, and did all other tasks associated with the expenditure, independently and without any input from Horne. Horne never referred anyone to an independent campaign to make a contribution. He never suggested to anyone with the independent campaign names of people to be solicited for contributions. He never attended an event for an independent campaign. He never spoke to anyone about making a contribution to an independent campaign. He never spoke to anyone about choosing the consultant, preparing the ad, or any other aspect of the independent expenditure.
This can be seen from the results. For example, Horne's Campaign had 1,900 contributors. The independent campaign had seven. If there had been coordination, the independent campaign would have had hundreds of contributors.
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Mr. Montgomery stated that he had taken action against the independent campaign that supported Felecia Rotellini and that opposed me. It should be added that an independent law judge has already found that that campaign violated campaign law by not registering or making required disclosures. Also, on September 14, 2010, Felecia Rotellini attended a meeting of the Democratic Attorney General's Association and gave a speech there, which led to their decision to fund her independent campaign. Tom Horne never did anything like that.
In this case, by contrast, it will be fully and completely proven that the claims are false.
UPDATE 9/2/12: Below is an excerpt from a summary of a meeting between an MCAO investigator and the FBI.
Um, I told you so.