Who Will Chop Off the Head of Tom Horne's Zombie-Like Campaign?
"I think I probably did tap a car," Horne told Fox 10 News recently when the subject was brought up. "Which many people tell me they do, and if they don't see any damage, they don't leave notes."
Lame excuses aside, Horne pleaded no contest to a criminal misdemeanor and paid a $300 fine in May 2013.
He had stretched out the case as long as possible, with continuance after continuance.
Horne pleaded nolo contendere the same day that the guilty verdict in the Jodi Arias case was announced. Which may have spared Horne from answering questions about it then, but only then.
The vagaries of election law may be lost on Joe and Jane Sixpack, but almost everyone understands the sort of scalawag that does not leave a note after rear-ending a car in a parking lot. Particularly when the parking lot is attached to the apartment complex of said scalawag's mistress.
Early ballots in the 2014 primary do not go out until the end of July, but the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, a conservative group headed by Mesa Republican Tyler Montague, just dropped close to $400,000 on a TV commercial bashing Horne for putting his mistress on the public payroll and for the hit-and-run.
The ad calls on the public to phone Horne and demand his resignation from office.
"The hardest part about making our 30-second commercial was deciding which of the long list of Horne's scandals to discuss," Montague said in a statement released with the ad.
"It wasn't easy. We settled on telling people about allegations that Horne hired his mistress for a $108K state salary and that he was sneaking off with her when the FBI observed him commit a hit-and-run.
"I feel those incidents concisely symbolize Horne's sense of entitlement and the lack of concern for the law displayed in more complex issues."
When New Times noted the dollar amount of the ad buy, Montague's grin was almost perceptible over the phone.
"Interesting irony, eh?" Montague says.
The campaign-finance case that won't go away was a consolation prize for the FBI and for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
After all, between a civil violation involving Winn and Horne illegally collaborating on the campaign against Rotellini and obstruction of justice and other juicy criminal allegations, what law enforcement agency wouldn't want to nail a state AG on the latter?
Other than the state AG's Office, that is.
Montgomery disclosed the FBI's investigation in late 2012. Both he and the feds chose not to hit Horne and Winn with criminal charges.
Instead, Montgomery pursued state elections-law violations against Horne and Winn, ordering that they repay $400,000 in contributions to Winn's independent-expenditure committee, Business Leaders for Arizona, or else face treble fines.
The MCAO and the FBI had amassed phone records and e-mails, showing "there were over 150 calls between Winn and Horne from August 25, 2010 and November 2010," according Montgomery's complaint against the pair.
Also, there was "a spike in the number of calls " during the time period that Winn and a campaign consultant from Lincoln Strategy Group were "working to create [a television advertisement] opposing Felecia Rotellini for attorney general."
State law decrees that independent-expenditure committees and candidates keep their efforts separate. When they do not, campaign contribution limits can be violated, which allegedly is what happened in the Horne/Winn affair.
Since Winn's IE and the campaign were acting as one, donors to Winn's Business Leaders for Arizona poured in more cash than allowed under state law — $400,000 too much.
Speaking of the civil case during a recent press conference, Montgomery remarked on the volume and quality of the evidence against Horne and Winn.
"The evidence that we had, yeah it was circumstantial," he admitted. "We didn't have recordings of any people directly involved admitting to coordinating. But under Arizona law, circumstantial evidence is entitled to the same weight as direct evidence."
He continued: "In this case, when we looked at the e-mails overlaid with phone calls overlaid with actions overlaid with the results, you don't get a much stronger circumstantial case involving this kind of conduct than what we saw in this instance."
True, Montgomery opposes Horne's re-election, calls Horne "unfit to serve," and supports Horne's primary challenger, Mark Brnovich.
But a procedural problem removed the campaign-finance case from Montgomery's purview. Perhaps this was for the best, since Montgomery was perceived as conflicted.
Eventually, the campaign-finance case landed in the lap of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a Republican who has endorsed neither Horne nor Brnovich.
Polk came to the same conclusion as Montgomery: Winn and Horne violated state campaign-finance law and therefore must pay.
A civil hearing took place in February before Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer. It lasted three days and featured testimony from Horne and Winn.
Eigenheer rendered her decision in April. Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence, she concluded that Polk's prosecutors had not prevailed, failing to prove their case by a preponderance of evidence.
The administrative law judge argued that it was plausible Horne and Winn had been discussing a real estate transaction instead of the TV attack ad, on which Winn was laboring at the time.
There was just Winn and Horne's testimony to back up the claim that Winn and Horne had discussed a pending real estate deal. Not one document, not one e-mail demonstrated involvement by Winn.
In such proceedings, Polk makes a determination, there is a hearing before an ALJ, then the matter goes back to Polk, who has the final decision.
Polk was not buying what Eigenheer was selling: That, because there were no tape recordings of phone calls between Winn and Horne, it was believable that Horne and Winn had been chatting about a real estate proposition.
On May 14, Polk formally rejected Eigenheer's finding. Polk concluded that the preponderance of the evidence — the standard of proof in this case — pointed to Horne and Winn's guilt.
"The [ALJ's] decision . . . concludes that it was plausible that Mr. Home and Ms. Winn were instead discussing a pending real estate deal," Polk writes. "[The Yavapai County Attorney] notes that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. Communications during telephone conversations can cover more than one topic."
As for Winn, Polk all but called her a liar.
"Ms. Winn repeatedly changed her story throughout the progress of this case," Polk observes. "Her pattern of contradicting sworn affidavits to conform to newly revealed facts calls into question her credibility. Some portions of Ms. Winn's testimony . . . do not stand up to scrutiny."
In response, Horne's office railed against Polk, whose reputation in political and law enforcement circles is impeccable, squeaky clean, and notably honest.
"[A] county politician has foolishly ignored the ruling of an independent judge," Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham inveighed. "She will undoubtedly lose on appeal. In the meantime, Attorney General Horne will continue the job he was elected to do."
This quote was wrongly attributed to Horne himself elsewhere, but he might as well have said it. In subsequent interviews with TV reporters, he called Polk a sore loser.