PHOENIX (Legal Newsline) - Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery announced Monday he is initiating a civil enforcement action against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and another member of the Attorney General's Office for alleged campaign finance violations.
In a news release, 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 Kathleen Winn, general director of community outreach for Horne's office, 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.
Horne 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.
The attorney general has said the accusations were "conjured up" by a disgruntled employee and former campaign supporter, Don Dybus.
According to Montgomery's office, 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," Montgomery said in a statement.
"The conduct in question is expressly prohibited by Arizona's election laws and we will work to hold those responsible accountable."
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.
Montgomery said he 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 state code is three times the cost of the literature or advertisement that was distributed.
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.
In a statement provided to the Phoenix Business Journal Monday, Horne said the charges regarding the 2010 election are "totally false."
"There was no coordination between the campaign and the independent campaign," the attorney general said.
"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."
Horne's former opponent said the attorney general will have his day in court, as he should.
"But the fact that Tom Horne needs to have a day in court is shameful," Rotellini said in a statement to the Business Journal.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.