One of the most unpleasant members of the Iowa legislature may have committed an ethics violation, according to a former consultant for Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign.
State Senator Kent Sorenson is among Iowa’s most hard-line conservative lawmakers. For instance, he called for impeaching Iowa Supreme Court justices over their 2009 ruling on same-sex marriage rights. He has a flair for strident political pronouncements. In early 2010 he published a lengthy open letter vowing never to vote for Terry Branstad for governor because doing so would “set aside my principles for the good of a political party.” When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the 2010 health care reform law last year, Sorenson opined, “Our supreme court chose to walk and urinate on our constitutional freedoms today. It is time to control-alt-delete the judicial system.” He also sent out a rambling e-mail to supporters saying that the ruling authored by “America’s new Benedict Arnold,” Chief Justice John Roberts, reminded him of the day in 1814 when British forces “burned the White House and Capitol to the ground.”
Despite his outspoken and confrontational nature, Sorenson isn’t a guy you’d want for backup in a tough fight. After chairing Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa for months, Sorenson ditched her for Ron Paul less than a week before caucus night.
Sorenson’s work for Bachmann has already come under scrutiny. Last July, former Bachmann staffer Barb Heki named Sorenson as a defendant in a lawsuit over an e-mail list for the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators. Heki alleges that Sorenson stole the list from her computer and along with other Bachmann staff tried to blame her for the campaign’s unauthorized use of the e-mails. Heki “later filed a theft report with the Urbandale police department” over the alleged November 2011 incident.
Now Peter Waldron, a political consultant who handled outreach to Christian voters for Bachmann’s campaign, has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission over alleged campaign finance violations.
Waldron’s FEC filing also alleges that Sorenson was paid $7,500 a month via [Guy] Short’s [Colorado-based] company [C&M Strategies] out of the proceeds from the PAC, an arrangement set up to get around rules prohibiting him from getting direct campaign payments.
“It was a veiled effort to cloak the payments,” Waldron said.
FEC officials said they had not seen Waldron’s complaint and could not comment.
Waldron’s complaint is not available on the FEC website. The commission typically keeps matters under review confidential until the case has been resolved.
After reviewing a notarized copy of Waldron’s complaint, Mike Wiser asked Sorenson about the allegations yesterday.
“I’m not talking about any of this,” Sorenson said when reached at his home Thursday afternoon. “I know nothing about how people were paid in the campaign.”
Asked if he was paid by the campaign, Sorenson responded, “No. This has been hashed out over the last year and a half. You can look at the articles. I stand by all my previous statements.”
If true, the alleged scheme may violate the Senate ethics rule against state senators being employed by political campaigns. Violations can result in reprimand or censure.
Members of the state legislature are required to file personal financial disclosure forms. At this writing, I have been unable to find an online copy of Sorenson’s 2012 report (covering his 2011 income). I will update this post with details as they become available.
If Waldron’s allegations are accurate, Sorenson could have received tens of thousands of dollars from the time he became Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair in early summer 2011 and the day he left the Bachmann campaign in late December 2011. Incidentally, the former campaign manager of Sorenson’s state legislative campaigns as well as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign manager Eric Woolson both claimed Sorenson had told them he was being offered significant compensation to endorse Ron Paul.
In Sorenson’s open letter about not voting for Branstad, he commented, “Telling the truth comes with a cost, but there isn’t a price tag on my integrity.” Maybe we’ll find out once the FEC investigates Waldron’s complaint.
Speaking of integrity, how do you like Waldron, “founder and president of Christians Restoring America’s Greatness”? This guy was so “Christian” that he turned a blind eye to alleged campaign finance violations, reporting them a year late and only after the Bachmann campaign allegedly stiffed a few former Iowa staffers. For the record, a Bachmann campaign representative denies Waldron’s accusations about unpaid staffers for the Iowa caucus effort.
Getting back to the alleged payments to Sorenson, they may not adversely affect his political career. I can’t remember the last time the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee did anything useful. That committee’s chair, Democratic State Senator Wally Horn, told Wiser that “no ethics complaint against Sorenson has been brought to his attention and the committee wouldn’t hold an investigation in the absence of such a complaint.” Wiser observed that Iowa code allows the Ethics Committee to “upon its own motion, initiate a complaint, investigation, or disciplinary action.” Don’t hold your breath.
I don’t know when or if Heki’s lawsuit over the allegedly pilfered e-mail list will go to trial. Former Polk County Republican Party Chair Ted Sporer agreed to represent Sorenson in that case.
Sorenson easily defeated Democratic State Senator Staci Appel in 2010. He is up for re-election in 2014 in Iowa Senate district 13, covering Madison County and almost all of Warren County. I haven’t heard about any Republicans planning a primary challenge or any Democrats thinking about taking him on. As of January 2013, Senate district 13 contained 13,702 registered Democrats, 15,356 Republicans, and 15,996 no-party voters. In November 2012, Republican Julian Garrett won re-election in Iowa House district 25, covering the western half of Senate district 13, while Democrat Scott Ourth won the open seat in House district 26, covering the eastern part of Sorenson’s Senate district.
UPDATE: Sorenson’s 2012 “statement of economic interests” is here (pdf). It lists consulting as a source of income but provides no details about how much he received or from what sources. The financial disclosure forms filed by other state senators are just as vague. Calling these forms “disclosure” is an exaggeration, given the lack of detail. Add this to your list of loopholes Iowa lawmakers will never close, no matter which party is in power.
SECOND UPDATE: Here is the text of Peter Waldron’s FEC complaint, dated January 14, 2013.
I was the National Field Coordinator for Bachman [sic] for President (hereafter, “BFP”) between July 2011 and January 2012. I witnessed the following five serious violations of FEC statutes.
1. A deliberate effort to conceal payments made to the IA State Chairman.
2. A Senior Advisor received payment from a PAC directly connected to the candidate while at the same time working full-time for Bachmann for President.
3. Direct coordination between a Super PAC and a BFP Senior Advisor.
4. A violation of whistle-blowing statutes.
I have a responsibility to report the following issues to the Commission:
1. Bachmann for President (“BFP”) paid its IA chairman, Sen. Kent Sorenson, $7,500 a month through a third party in an effort to disguise payments. IA Sen. Sorenson was paid monthly by a third party until he defected to presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
As evidence, I point the Commission to the FEC reports for the entire year 2011 for BFP and payments made to C&M Strategies, Inc.
As evidence, I point the Commission to the FEC reports filed by MichelePAC and payments made by MichelePAC to C&M Strategies, Inc.
To verify, the FEC could request a copy of the agreement between BFP and C&M Strategies, Inc. from BFP.
To verify, the FEC could audit the deposits and payments made to C&M Strategies Inc. from June 2011 through January 2012 to determine if C&M Strategies paid Sen. Kent Sorenson $7,500/month plus expenses and if Mr. Guy Short was being paid $20,000/month in combination from MichelePAC and Bachmann for President.
2. MichelePAC paid C&M Strategies, Inc. $20,000 for work performed in December 2011 by Guy Short who functioned and performed duties as BFP’s National Political Director in the BFP IA office in Urbandale in December 2011.
As evidence, I point you to the FEC reports for the entire year of 2011 for MichelePAC.
As evidence, I point you to witnesses in the BFP IA office who can testify that Mr. Short in his capacity as BFP National Political Director supervised operations full time in the IA BFP office in Urbandale, IA, in December 2011.
As evidence, I point you to the FEC reports for the entire year of 2011 for BFP. C&M Strategies, Inc. is listed as a debt for expenses incurred December 2011.
Mr. Short claimed to the media that he was a volunteer who volunteered his time to the Bachmann for President Campaign. Please determine if a “National Political Director” may volunteer his time and not be listed as debt except for his expenses while living in Iowa, and be allowed to be paid $20,000 the same month from a PAC headquartered in Minnesota, which is directly connected to the Presidential Candidate, Representative Michele Bachmann.
3. BFP Speech Coach Brett O’Donnell coordinated media buys and placement with “NFC Super PAC” located near Nashville, TN.
As evidence, I point you to my eye-witness account, detailed later in this narrative.
4. BFP has not paid as of 1/13/2013 the following firms listed on the BFP FEC final filing.
Vertical Horizons Once, Inc., FL.
Vero Consulting, IA
Capitol City Partners, DC.
BFP has not paid as of 1/13/2013 Contractor Drew Klein and Contractor Barbara Heki, IA, who are not listed on the final BFP FEC report.
5. Subsequent to December 1, 2012, or 11-months after the January 3, 2012 IA Caucus, BFP Finance Chairman James Pollack requires that unpaid staffers/contractors (see “4” above) sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”) that prohibits interviews or cooperation with legal entities (i.e., lawyers and law enforcement) without first speaking with BFP legal counsel.
Collateral Evidence: I am prepared to provide an affidavit, provide a list of witnesses, a copy of the NDA, newspaper articles, and cooperate with the Commission in the execution of its lawful duties.
1a. I submit to you that according to reports filed with the FEC, C&M Strategies, Inc. was paid $22,500 per month by BFP.
1b. I submit to you that according to FEC reports filed by MichelePAC, C&M Strategies, Inc. was paid $5,000 a month. The combined monthly income received by C&M Strategies, Inc. was $27,500.
I respectfully submit that Mr. Short and/or C&M Strategies paid IA Sen. Sorenson $7,500, which was common knowledge among the IA presidential staff.
2a. I submit to you that Mr. Short had a conflict of interest because he served MichelePAC as Executive Director for which his firm, C&M Strategies, received $5,000 payments per month from MichelePAC and a one-time payment of $20,000 in December 2011.
At the same time, Mr. Short was paid $22,500 per month by BFP as National Political Director except for the month of December 2011 when he received zero
2b. Mr. Short told the IA Presidential Staff that he was a “volunteer” in December 2011. His unexpected announcement to be a “volunteer” came after BFP CAmpaign Manager Keith Nahigian asked the staff to defer compensation for December 2011 until later in the month or after the New Year (January 2012). Some BFP senior advisors and staffers deferred compensation to help the candidate. The exception was Mr. Guy Short who paid himself $20,000 from MichelePAC. This fact was not known until FEC reports were filed by MichelePAC.
2c. BFP FEC reports show that C&M Strategies, Inc. was reimbursed by BFP for December 2011 expenses incurred by Mr. Guy Short while serving in the BFP Urbandale, IA, office.
3a. I witnessed a conversation between NFP Super PAC President Bill Hemrick and BFP Senior Advisor and Speech Coach Brett O’Donnell during which Mr. Hemrick sought Mr. O’Donnell’s advice with regard to media buys in the Des Moines market. Mr. O’Donnell advised Mr. Hemrick of which radio and TV stations to buy time.
This conversation took place at the BFP Urbandale, IA office at the end of Candidate Bachmann’s 99-country [sic] bus tour. I and others were surprised to witness the conversation between the two men outside of the bus near the candidate’s entourage. Earlier in the evening, Mr. Hemrick had been warned by two BFP senior advisors not to discuss NFC Super PAC activity or seek advice from the candidate, senior advisors and staff.
4a. Two of the three firms– Vertical Horizons One, Inc., and Capitol City Partners, LLC, — were interviewed by attorneys and investigators involved in a lawsuit and a criminal investigation in Iowa.
A former staffer, Barbara Heki, is party to a lawsuit against BFP in Iowa.
Additionally, BFP sent a “release” (Non-Disclosure Agreement) to various unpaid Iowa staff requiring them to promise to call BFP before responding to any law enforcement inquiries if they wanted to be paid. The release also included a gag order and agreement not to sue.
The FEC could investigate whether the identified firms and individuals hired by BFP are victims of discrimination for cooperating with legal entities involved in the civil lawsuit and criminal investigation by Urbandale, IA, police.
The FEC could investigate whether BFP is guilty of violating whistleblower statutes that prohibit punitive behavior toward BFP employee or firm because of any cooperation or complaint filed with officials in a legal mater or criminal investigation.
5a. Each staff member/contractor performed the duty required by BFP in consideration of compensation agreed between the staffer/contractors. The agreed compensation remains unpaid.
5b. Nearly one year after the performance of agreed duties, BFP requires without consideration a signature on a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”). The NDA requires that each unpaid staffer/contractor first speak to BFP counsel before cooperating with attorneys and criminal investigators.
5c. The FEC could investigate whether the identified firms and contract staff are victims of extortion in an effort to suppress information relating to a civil lawsuit and/or a criminal investigation in Iowa.
National Field Coordinator, Bachmann for President