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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mitch McConnell Campaign Manager Outed For Bribery, Steps Down

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Kent Sorenson is just bad news for the Republican Party, and the fallout of the recent news about him has spread all the way to Mitch McConnell's current re-election campaign.

On August 27th, 2014, former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson pled guilty in Federal Court admitting to two charges of taking bribes during the Iowa Caucuses for his endorsement of Ron Paul. Sorenson is now facing between 5 years and 25 years in prison, and a $500,000 fine. He also pleaded guilty to working with the Ron Paul campaign to lie about the $73,000 bribe that was given to him by Ron Paul's campaign manager. When the campaign presented their expenditures, disclosing them in a federal document, Sorenson lied about the money from the campaign, saying they were payments for some film company work. 

How did we get here? Let's go back to the presidential race for the GOP ticket in 2012.

Bachmann in Iowa
(G. Skidmore/wiki images, 2011)

It was 6 days before the Iowa Caucuses in the winter of 2011, and there was a dramatic development that really shook up the poll takers. Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson had been serving as an Iowa State Co-Chair for Michelle Bachmann. Ron Paul was in first place or second place, depending on which poll you read. Michelle Bachmann was catching up. And 6 days before the Iowa Caucus, Kent Sorenson, Bachmann's Co-Chair for Iowa, switched teams. He showed up during the day at a Michelle Bachmann event, but that evening he was introduced at a Ron Paul event as 'the incredible Senator who switched sides at the last moment', and, just like that, Sorenson was now part of the "Ron Paul Revolution."

There were rumors of a big sum of money switching hands in order for this defection to take place. And there were emails too. There are emails from Kent Sorenson to the Ron Paul campaign saying how much he wanted to be bribed to switch sides. There are recorded phone calls confirming the bribe.

Of course, when someone gets bribed, there is always a briber. Who was it that did the bribing? Who gave him the check? After all, you can't bribe yourself can you? Who was in charge of the Ron Paul campaign finances when this was happening?

In fact, the courting of Sorenson by the Paul campaign began in October 2011, a few months before his Bachmann defection and subsequent public endorsement of Congressman Paul. On October 29, 2011, a memo was drafted outlining the benefits the Paul campaign would receive by meeting Sorenson’s financial demands. One of those benefits was the acquisition of a list of identified voters who were planning on voting for Michele Bachmann. Sorenson also offered up the e-mail list for the “main home-school group” in Iowa. Of course, State Senator Sorenson denied it at the time. Ron Paul said "that did not happen'. Jessie Benton, Ron Paul's campaign manager, didn't comment.

Who was that email with Sorenson's demand sent to? Who was it again that was in charge of Ron Paul's financial matters during the 2012 campaign? Who signed the $73,000 check? That would be none other than Ron Paul's actual campaign manager, of course, Jessie Benton, and in a dingy local restaurant, in an afternoon in December (2011), 8 days before the Iowa Caucus, a Ron Paul staffer apparently slipped Sorenson an envelope with a big check in it. With Jessie Benton's John Hancock, Sorenson's support was insured, and two days later Sorenson announced his endorsement for Ron Paul.

A week later, Michelle Bachmann finished sixth in the Iowa Caucuses, and then left the presidential race.

Cut to Feb. 2013, when a former Bachmann staffer complained to state officials that State Senator Kent Sorenson had taken a bribe from Bachmann to work for the Bachmann campaign back in 2011. This guy was apparently an equal opportunity bribee. There was an investigation, and the state ethics commission found the claim of bribery to be substantiated. The guy in the Bachmann camp who wrote the check stepped down from his Senatorial office, mumbling something about gay marriage in an email to supporters explaining the exit. Seriously. And elected official Sorenson remained at large and uncharged.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, and the Federal Election Commission, and the Office of Congressional Ethics continued to look into the matter.

With the Bachmann briber taken care of, in March of 2014, the commission investigating these bribery charges turned their spotlight back to the 2012 Ron Paul campaign. There was an investigation and a grand jury. Former State Senator cum Campaign Manager Kent Sorenson's records were studied, producing a 500-page report, eventually finding that $73,000 had been paid to Sorenson in wire transfers. Deeply suspicious wire transfers. Was this the smoking gun? Was Sorenson finally going to be caught for taking bribes? Yes.
Former Mitch McConnell campaign manager, Jessie Benton

Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson admitted in Federal Court to taking bribes during the Iowa Caucuses for his endorsement of Ron Paul and to working with the Ron Paul campaign to lie about the $73,000 bribe. We won't be seeing Sorenson at any campaign rallies for a bit now.

Early this year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quite proud to announce he had brought Jessie Benton (Ron Paul's old campaign manager) on board as his re-election campaign manager. Woohoo. Great catch Mitch. (A recording went public last year of Benton saying, I'm "holding my nose" going to work for the Senate minority leader’s campaign.)

The morning of August 29th, 2014, a McConnell spokesperson said in a statement that “Sen. McConnell obviously has nothing to do with the Iowa presidential caucus, or this investigation, so it would be inappropriate for his campaign to comment on this situation.” After all, McConnell is locked in a tight re-election battle against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, and if Republicans can take back the Senate, McConnell may take the majority leader's seat.

Benton, who many refer to as a tea party insider, claims that he has been the target of "inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors" about his role in past campaigns that are "politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue." Fun Fact: Turns out Jessie Benton is actually Ron Paul’s grandson-in-law, and was expected to run Rand Paul’s campaign in 2016. On news dump Friday before the Labor Day 3-day weekend, as quietly as possible, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, announced his resignation, citing "potential distractions over renewed attention to a scandal from the Iowa 2012 caucuses."

The Policy Geek

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