Saturday, October 05, 2013

How Corrupt Is The Iowa Republican Party-- And What Does That Mean For The Presidential Caucuses?


Although this post isn't about it (this one is), I have been positively engrossed in reading Barton Gellman's gripping book on the Cheney (vice) presidency, Angler. There are many conclusions one can draw from his writing but one is surely that criminals-- like Cheney and his gang of accomplices-- should never be allowed to evade justice. I'll cover that in upcoming posts. Today I just want to talk about another criminal evading justice of a far less existential nature than Cheney's war crimes: Michele Bachmann's grubby money laundering and bribery scandals.

My fear is that rumors are true that Bachmann has been told she will avoid prison by retiring from Congress. She already announced that she won't be running for Congress again and the case against her has pretty much disappeared from the media. Instead we're looking at one of the people who accepted the bribes from her campaign. Isn't the briber at least as guilty as the bribe taker?

Unless you live in Iowa-- or watched Rachel Maddow's show Thursday evening-- you probably never heard pif Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson… or now ex-state Senator Kent Sorenson. Sorenson was elected to the Iowa House in 2008 and two years later he beat Democratic state Senator Staci Appel (who is currently running for Congress against Tom Latham, a Sorenson crony). Until he resigned from the Senate this past Wednesday, he was a member of the Judiciary Committee and the ranking member of the Oversight Committee (i.e., Iowa's Darrell Issa).

Sorenson's career started unwinding when Iowa religionist freak Barb Heki, went to the police over the Bachmann campaign stealing the most coveted of GOP campaign lists: graduates of Christian homeschooling, the easiest people to manipulate on the planet. And it was Sorenson who stole the list for Bachmann. But that was just the beginning of a long and sordid dance between Bachmann, Sorenson, Ron Paul, federal investigators, state investigators and the Iowa state Senate. Sorenson's resignation this week stops nothing.
The resignation was announced by Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix in a statement released shortly after 5 p.m.

“Today, I called for Senator Sorenson’s resignation, and he agreed to do so effective immediately,” Dix said in the statement.

In an interview after the statement was released, Sorenson told the Des Moines Register he decided to quit fighting the charges for the sake of his family. It has already cost him thousands of dollars, he said. In an earlier interview, he said he never made any false statements and maintained he violated no ethics rule.

In a 566-page report filed with the Iowa Senate on Wednesday, Mark E. Weinhardt, a specially appointed independent counsel to the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, reports that Sorenson received money from Bachmann-controlled political action committees by filtering the funds through two separate consulting firms.

Sorenson served as the Iowa campaign chairman of Bachman’s presidential campaign until a dramatic defection to the U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign just days before the Jan. 3, 2012, caucuses.

Senate ethics rules prohibit legislators from receiving payment-- either directly or indirectly-- from political action committees.

The report also finds that Sorenson received a $25,000 check from a senior official in former Paul’s presidential campaign. He also received $73,000 in wire transfers that Weinhardt called “deeply suspicious.”

Sorenson told the Register he spoke to the special investigator for 2 1/2 hours, then could tell from Weinhardt’s line of questioning that he’d already drawn his own conclusions. At that point, Sorenson said he declined to answer further questions.

Taking money from two corporations is much different from taking money directly from a presidential campaign, he argued. “I don’t believe I lied,” he said. “If you’re a subcontractor, who do you work for? I was never an employee of Bachmann for President.”

His lawyer, Theodore Sporer, said the investigator is taking quite a bit of latitude in his interpretation of the Senate rules.

“(Sorenson) didn’t say anything that wasn’t true and if that broad reading is accurate, it will present a host of problems for the Senate-- there would be senators from both sides of the aisle that would have violated this rule,” Sporer said. “I’m going to guess the report skirts around that direct versus indirect issue.”

Sporer added that their comments are about the allegations connected to the Bachmann campaign not the Paul campaign money, which is a separate matter.

Sorenson told the Register that one of his fellow senators knew that presidential candidate Rick Perry was renting building space from him because Perry wanted the senator’s endorsement. Another senator who owns a restaurant catered food for campaign workers, he said.

“So cooking a hamburger for a campaign isn’t working but giving advice is?” Sorenson said.

The report says that in Sorenson’s cases, money from the presidential campaigns was received by a company called Grassroots Strategies, Inc., which was wholly owned by Sorenson.  In the case of the payments from the Bachmann-associated PACs, Sorenson took money from Grassroots Strategies as income for himself, Wienhardt found.

For his work on Bachmann’s presidential campaign, Sorenson received payment from the Bachmann For President campaign committee and MichelePAC, a leadership PAC set up by Bachmann to raise money for other candidates, Weinhardt found.

“We believe it was a plain violation of Senate Ethics Rule 6 for Senator Sorenson to accept compensation from MichelePAC to work on Representative Bachmann’s behalf,” Weinhardt writes in the report.

Sorenson’s payments from Bachmann for President, meanwhile, present “a question of interpretation” of the Senate rule-- and indicate a need for the Senate to rewrite the rule to clarify its intent.

The report also notes two instances in which Sorenson denied being compensated by the Bachmann campaign in written statements to the Senate Ethics Committee. There is probable cause to believe, Weinhardt found, that those statements are false and that Sorenson knew them to be false when he made them.

Such false statements would constitute felonious misconduct in office, which is a class D felony.

The investigation originated with a complaint from Peter Waldron, a political consultant from Florida who worked on Bachmann’s campaign in Iowa throughout 2011.

In a statement to the Register on Wednesday, Waldron said he was “vindicated” by the report but regretful that Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status had been “soiled” by its findings.

“The people of Iowa must now change the ethics rules by which they control the behavior of their senators in both parties,” he said in the statement. “No payments of any kind, directly or indirectly, can flow to senators if Iowa wishes to preserve it unique role in the presidential nominating system in America.”

Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, said he hoped to call a meeting of the committee for early next week to discuss the matter. In an interview before Sorenson’s resignation was announced, he declined to even guess, however, at how the committee might respond to the report.

With Sorenson’s resignation, the issue may now be moot.

The Ethics Committee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. It could do anything from dropping the matter entirely to rendering judgment on Sorenson’s guilt or innocence.

Horn also noted that the committee is anticipating another report from Weinhardt, looking at a second set of allegations against Sorenson relating to whether he took money from the Paul campaign.

…Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone and a member of the Ethics Committee, said Wednesday afternoon he’d spent the day out in his soybean fields and was unaware the report had been released.

“My position from the first initial report is that a guy is innocent until proven guilty,” Behn said. “I really want to see the report and find out what’s going on. … I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say anything yet.”

Sorenson, 41, is a first-term senator representing a district just south of Des Moines. He previously served one term in the House.

In the other major issue Weinhardt reviewed, he found no evidence that Sorenson personally took a list containing the contact information for home-school families from the computer of another Bachmann campaign worker. He find evidence, however, suggesting Sorenson was involved in a conspiracy to obtain the list for use by the campaign.

The list was stored on a computer owned by campaign worker Barb Heki in connection with her work for the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators. Heki sued Sorenson and the Bachmann campaign for obtaining the list and sending emails to the names it contained. The issue also has been the subject of an Urbandale police investigation.

Weinhardt’s report notes that a third campaign worker, Chris Dorr, took responsibility for taking list, although there is evidence of a conspiracy involving Sorenson.

“The objects of the conspiracy were to remove the list from Ms. Heki’s computer without her knowledge and to make use of the list to [Bachmann for President’s] and Senator Sorenson’s own advantage while knowing that the list had been stolen,” Weinhardt writes.

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At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

President O is not a wimp. He is kind of busy; ending 2 wars, fixing economy that wars depleted, fixing our education system, equal pay for women, marriage equality, and now dealing with the Tantrums of the GOP/Tea Party that threaten to RUIN our credit & future, because they know they will NOT have a GOP President in 2016. They are destroying everything they can because they are spoiled, selfish immoral, immature & unenlightened trash. They cannot stand equality and justice. Its all about power & money, so 1980...grow up!

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous me said...

Baloney. In his first year, he deliberately gave all the crooks a complete pass.

And THAT is the reason he (and we) are having these troubles today.


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