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County Attorney seeking civil penalties from AG Horne over campaign finance

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PHOENIX – Attorney General Tom Horne violated state campaign finance laws by coordinating with the head of a supposedly independent group on ads attacking his opponent late in the 2010 campaign, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Monday.

As a result, Montgomery said he wants Horne and Kathleen Winn, formerly chairwoman of Business Leaders of Arizona and currently a member of Horne’s staff, to pay back up to $513,000 in contributions to the group.

Montgomery held a news conference to announce a civil enforcement action against Horne and Winn, who currently is director of community outreach for the Attorney General’s Office.

The action stems from an 11-month FBI investigation into Business Leaders of Arizona and Horne’s campaign, which were supposed to be separate entities and prohibited from communicating about financial matters under Arizona law.

Montgomery said a series of emails and phone calls gathered by the FBI and his office showed the group wasn’t really independent. Because of that, he said, money improperly donated, an amount up to $513,000 and including $115,000 from one of Horne’s relatives, constituted donations to Horne’s campaign and should be returned.

“If they correct everything, no harm no foul,” Montgomery said.

State campaign finance law allows for civil penalties of up to three times the cost of the literature and advertisements that were distributed improperly.

The money, which came from the Republican State Leadership Committee and individual donors, was used to pay for television advertisements against Horne’s Democratic opponent, Felecia Rotellini.

Montgomery also said the investigation found evidence of what he called a misdemeanor hit-and-run traffic accident. He said the information was forwarded to Phoenix police and declined to elaborate.

In a news release attributed to his campaign, Horne said there wasn’t any coordination with Business Leaders of Arizona. The law permits contact between the two, Horne’s statement said, so long as there isn’t any direction given.

“This will be completely proven to be true during the legal process,” the release said.

Horne’s statement didn’t address the traffic incident Montgomery mentioned.

James Turgal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix division, said results of his office’s investigation had also been shared with federal prosecutors. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona released a statement Monday afternoon saying it “has no ongoing investigation regarding Tom Horne.”

Montgomery said Arizona law allows for civil enforcement, not criminal charges, in this case. He said he’d like the Legislature to address that.

“I would rather the inadequacy of the election laws provide the necessary impetus for change,” Montgomery said.