Ariz. AG wants campaign finance case against him, office employee dismissed

PHOENIX (Legal Newsline) -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss a campaign finance case against him and office employee Kathleen Winn, arguing the law at the center of the case is unconstitutional. Horne's attorney, in the motion, pointed to testimony from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to a state House Judiciary Committee last month over legislation that would increase campaign contribution limits. According to the Arizona Republic, Montgomery testified that current "unconstitutionally low" limits provide citizens with an incentive to find "other avenues" to participate in the election process. Montgomery told the committee that leads to a rise in independent expenditure committees. "We're going to see more money spent through the independent expenditure process if we do not allow individual citizens to participate more fully and exercise their rights to free speech," he said, according to the Republic. In October, Montgomery announced he was initiating a civil enforcement action against Horne and Winn, general director of community outreach for Horne's office, for alleged campaign finance violations. Montgomery said the allegations stem from an 11-month-long FBI investigation into Business Leaders for Arizona, or BLA, an independent expenditure committee chaired by Winn, and operated in "close coordination" with Horne in violation of state code. Horne has been under investigation for allegations that he worked with the independent expenditure committee to run ads against his 2010 Democratic opponent -- which is not permitted under Arizona law. The attorney general has denied being involved with BLA, which raised and spent $500,000 to run television advertisements attacking Felecia Rotellini. Horne, a Republican, defeated Rotellini in 2010 to become the state's top lawyer. Rotellini announced last week she is again running for attorney general in 2014. Horne has said the accusations were "conjured up" by a disgruntled employee and former campaign supporter, Don Dybus. "The conduct in question is expressly prohibited by Arizona's election laws and we will work to hold those responsible accountable," Montgomery said in a statement in October. 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 Rotellini. 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 Montgomery's office to initiate an enforcement action pursuant to its statutory authority. In August, Montgomery initiated a separate civil enforcement action against the Committee for Justice and Fairness, an independent expenditure committee that paid for commercials advocating against Horne's candidacy for attorney general and that failed to register with the Secretary of State's Office. Horne has called the charges regarding the 2010 election "totally false." "There was no coordination between the campaign and the independent campaign," the attorney general said in October. "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." He added, "This will be completely proven to be true during the legal process." Montgomery spokesman Jerry Cobb told the Republic Tuesday that Montgomery would be filing a response to Horne's motion to dismiss. According to the Republic's report, the county attorney was asked in a February editorial meeting why he is prosecuting Horne for exceeding the current campaign finance limits if he believes they are unconstitutional. Montgomery told the board it is "imperative" for him to follow the law, even if he disagrees with the limits it has set. From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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