PHOENIX — An attorney representing Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and a top aide failed to convince a judge Friday that a lawsuit seeking to declare the state's limits on political contributions unconstitutionally low should be revived.
The effort by Kathleen Winn, argued by Horne's lawyer, is part of an attempt to derail a campaign finance violation case they both are facing.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sally Duncan instead ruled that the pair must first battle the illegal campaign coordination case filed by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk in October. She found the same in an October ruling that dismissed the suit.
Winn works as the attorney general's community outreach and education director. She and Horne are accused of illegally coordinating spending in his 2010 election while she ran an independent committee called Business Leaders for Arizona. They deny those allegations.
Horne has asked to be a party to Winn's suit but has not formally joined it yet. Horne's lawyer, Michael Kimerer, argued the case Friday because Winn's lawyer wasn't available.
"No one should be subject to going through any kind of proceeding if you have an unconstitutional statute," Kimerer said after Duncan ruled. "Why should you be accused and put into the system and run through the ringer if you don't have something that's constitutional, if it's totally wrong to begin with."
The lawsuit named Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state's chief election officer, as a defendant. Bennett and his office are represented by private attorney Joseph Kanefield.
Statewide office-seekers could accept donations of only $840 per person in 2010, and they are barred from accepting corporate and union money. Winn argues the limits were so low that Horne could not respond to an aggressive attack by an outside group backing his opponent.
Kanefield said if needed he was prepared to show that the limits don't crimp a candidate's ability to run a competitive election and are therefore constitutional.
Horne and Winn face an administrative hearing in February in the campaign finance case.
Polk in October ordered Horne to return nearly $400,000 to donors and amend his campaign finance reports after finding there is evidence he violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 run for office. Polk also is seeking civil penalties amounting to three times the amount.
Polk found reasonable cause to believe Horne and Winn worked together to raise about $500,000 through the Business Leaders for Arizona group she chaired.
Both strongly deny they illegally coordinated the spending.
Horne, a Republican, is the state's top law enforcement officer. He defeated Democrat Felecia Rotellini, a former prosecutor and bank regulator, by approximately 63,000 votes out of a total of 1.6 million ballots cast in the 2010 general election for attorney general. Horne faces a GOP challenger next year, and Rotellini also is running again.
Facing a tough election challenge in 2010, Horne and Winn allegedly worked together to raise money for the outside group she headed to pay for negative ads targeting Rotellini.
Winn argued that despite Horne's best efforts, he was able to raise only $540,000, compared with his Democratic opponent's $699,000.
When an outside group began spending $1.5 million attacking Horne, the group Winn headed raised money to counter those efforts.