The Citizens Clean Elections Commission voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of its Executive Director that it investigate Tom “banned for Life by the SEC’ Horne for campaign finance law violations. The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports Clean Elections finds reasonable cause that Horne broke campaign laws:
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission determined Sept. 11 that it had reason to believe Attorney General Tom Horne violated campaign finance laws by failing to report staffer time and office space as in-kind contributions to his campaign.
The commission voted unanimously to proceed with an investigation that will likely include subpoenas for some of the attorney general’s employees.
Commission Chairman Timothy Reckart emphasized that the commission was not making a determination of Horne’s guilt or innocence.
The unanimous vote would only trigger a deeper investigation into allegations by former staffer Sarah Beattie that Horne used the Attorney General’s Office as a de facto campaign headquarters, with employees engaging in campaign activities during the work day.
“It is not a finding on the factual matters. There are no conclusions of law. There are no fines being assessed by this action whatsoever,” Reckart said. “When we get to a point where we have to take action in terms of determining definitely if violations occurred, there needs to be a good vetting of the facts.”
The commission’s vote follows a recommendation by Executive Director Tom Collins, who said he found reason to believe that Horne violated campaign finance laws. Collins likened the recommendation to the notice of reasonable cause that the Secretary of State’s Office would issue after determining there is enough evidence to send a campaign finance complaint to an investigative law enforcement agency.
Collins said the commission will need to subpoena witnesses and put them under oath to complete the investigation. But he said interviews wouldn’t be feasible until the commission receives documents and records it has sought from the Attorney General’s Office, such as timesheets and salary information for some employees.
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Collins issued his recommendation on Sept. 9, writing that he found Horne’s argument that his employees simply volunteered their own time to be unconvincing.
“When a state employee’s position with the state is expressly tied to campaign work that is done interchangeably during work and after work hours, there is no distinction to be drawn. Just because AGO staff may have been free to volunteer after hours, doesn’t meant their campaign work during and after hours wasn’t part of their compensated employment,” Collins wrote.
Horne’s executive office staff and his campaign volunteers had a “parallel organizational structure” in which the staffers’ campaign duties largely corresponded with their official duties in his office, Collins wrote. With the exception of one out-of-state consultant, Collins wrote, all attendees of Horne’s campaign meetings were employees of his office.
“There were seamless operations between the AGO Executive Office and the Horne campaign at the highest levels, including management, strategy, technology, communications, field work, and fundraising,” Collins wrote.
For example, though some employees alleged that they only engaged in campaign activities during breaks in the work day, there were no controls in place to document the timing or duration of those breaks, Collins said.
Collins cited allegations by Beattie that Margaret Dugan, who served as Horne’s chief of staff in the office and campaign manager for his re-election, would review campaign data in the office and talk with her about campaign issues, and that Horne would frequently pull staffers into meetings to discuss his campaign.
The executive director noted that two of the employees named in Beattie’s complaint, Garrett Archer and Brett Mecum, are political professionals by trade and that they allegedly volunteered services that they normally would have charged for.
Collins also said Horne and Attorney General’s Office did not respond to all of the commission’s questions in the investigation, including a failure to provide time sheets for some of the employees named in the complaint.
Based on the prorated salaries of six employees, Collins determined that Horne should have reported about $310,000 worth of in-kind contributions. Each of the contributions would exceed the state’s campaign contribution limits, which allow individuals to give a candidate up to $2,000 for the primary and another $2,000 for the general election.
The figures were based on the employees’ full salaries during the time frame covered by Beattie’s complaint, which involved roughly two-thirds of their pay. Collins said he’s not implying that every hour of those employees’ time was spent on Horne’s campaign during that period, but that there’s no way to determine yet what the figure should be because campaign and office work were so closely mingled.
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Collins also said Horne should have reported about $25,000 in prorated rent for the use of Attorney General’s Office facilities for campaign meetings. While Horne said that the Arizona Rock Products Association allowed him to use its building for campaign meetings, Collins noted that the only expense that Horne reported for campaign office space was a $100 payment to the association in April 2013.
If the commission follows Collins’ recommendation, Horne could face a fine of up to three times the amount of the violation.
There are other parallel investigations into Tommy Boy’s campaign finance law violations also currently under way.