PHOENIX -- A judge has refused to block the Arizona Clean Elections Commission from investigating Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne for alleged election law violations, turning back the Republican's argument that it lacks power over him because he isn't running for re-election with public financing.
The ruling Tuesday from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dawn Bergin means the commission can continue an investigation it launched in June into whether Horne broke the law by using his office staff to work on his campaign.
His lawyers argued at a hearing last week that voters did not intend for the commission's enforcement powers to extend to nonparticipating candidates when they passed the 1998 law creating the state's public financing law, the commission and its enforcement powers.
Bergin rejected that outright.
``In summary, the court finds that (the statute) demonstrates an intent to subject nonparticipating candidates who substantially exceed statutory contribution limits to the same penalty as participating candidates: disqualification or forfeiture of office,'' Bergin wrote.
``I think it's a complete vindication of everything the commission said,'' said Tom Collins, its executive director. ``I think the Clean Elections Act is clear, I think the voters invested the commission with the power to enforce it.''
Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said he is reviewing the decision and considering whether to appeal.
Timothy La Sota, Horne's private lawyer, said he believe the law doesn't allow the investigation, ``and the Legislature passed a law this session reiterating the Clean Elections Commission does not have jurisdiction over nonparticipating candidates.''
The commission voted in June to investigate Horne after former staffer Sarah Beattie alleged Horne made widespread use of his office executive staff to work on his re-election campaign in violation of election laws. A separate investigation into the same matter was initiated by the secretary of state's office last month and is being conducted by a retired appeals court judge and Gilbert's town attorney.
Horne denies illegally using his staff to do substantial campaign work.
Horne has been saddled by a series of legal and political problems as he seeks a second term as the state's top law enforcement official. The Republican already is appealing a finding by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he and a top aide illegally coordinated spending by an outside group supporting his 2010 election bid.
Horne faces a Republican challenger in next week's primary, Mark Brnovich, who has called on Horne to drop out and said he ``created a culture of corruption within the attorney general's office.''
If Horne beats Brnovich, he will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November in a rematch of the 2010 election matchup. Horne edged Rotellini by about 4 percent of the votes cast.
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