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Weekend open thread: Political corruption edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 07, 2014 at 13:10:56 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I've been reading about the recent convictions of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell on federal corruption charges. Both are likely to do prison time for accepting money and favors for personal benefit. Incidentally, McDonnell refused a deal that would have required him to plead guilty to just one charge, sparing his wife from prosecution. Iowa's own former State Senator Kent Sorenson showed more chivalry--or was it wisdom, for once?--when he agreed to plead guilty on corruption charges, protecting his own wife from prosecution in connection with illegal payments.

While I have no problem with prosecuting greedy politicians, it occurs to me that the McDonnells' outrageous actions (such as letting a wealthy businessman cater their daughter's wedding) were less damaging to the public welfare than many more prevalent forms of "legal corruption." No governor will be prosecuted for appointing wealthy donors to powerful state positions, where they may promote their own businesses or interfere with those they see threatening their industry. No governor will ever be prosecuted for giving interest groups undue influence on public policy, either covertly or openly. In the August 31 Sunday Des Moines Register, Richard Doak wrote an excellent piece on how Governor Terry Branstad has "put state government at the service of one segment of the people: the business community." I've posted excerpts after the jump. Doak's not talking about criminal activity, but he cites policies that have harmed Iowa more than any luxury vacation for the McDonnells could ever harm Virginia.

On a related note, the Brennan Center for Justice recently published a disturbing report on trends in federal campaign spending:

In recent cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Supreme Court has been narrowing what counts as corruption in campaign finance cases to mere quid pro quo corruption. Quid pro quo is Latin meaning "this for that." In other words only explicit exchanges of gifts for votes or campaign cash for official acts will count as corruption for the Roberts Supreme Court. But a new study entitled, "The New Soft Money" from Professor Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause calls this narrow read of corruption into question.  

Speaking of "dark money," Iowa's third Congressional district was among thirteen tossup U.S. House races examined in a separate Brennan Center report on outside political spending. A growing trend (not yet seen in IA-03) is for a super-PAC to be formed supporting a single Congressional candidate, giving "big donors a way of evading federal contribution limits."

UPDATE: Over at the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's blog, Adam Rappaport illustrates another example of legalized corruption: "issue ads" funded by dark money, which are clearly intended to influence elections. Although the "tax code plainly says section 501(c)(4) organizations must be 'exclusively' engaged in non-political activity," the IRS interpretation allows dark money groups to fund blatant electioneering communications.  

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Weekend open thread: Labor Day edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 09:15:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Labor Day has been a federal holiday for 120 years, and it's just one of many reasons Americans can be grateful to the organized labor movement.

Labor Day also marks the unofficial end of summer for many people. It's a wet and muddy holiday weekend in central Iowa, as Des Moines just closed out the rainiest August on record. Hummingbirds will start flying south soon, and early September is a good time to see monarch butterflies on their migration through Iowa. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City has a volunteer monarch tagging event scheduled for this Saturday, September 6. The Des Moines Register's Mike Kilen reported late last week that several conservation groups are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give the monarch "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act. Conventional farming practices, notably the widespread use of Roundup herbicide, have decimated milkweeds, which monarchs need to breed. Planting milkweeds along roadsides and in private yards can give butterflies good habitat.

In even-numbered years, politicos long considered Labor Day the unofficial beginning of the general election campaign, or at least the time more voters start paying attention. Campaigns are so expensive now, with so much more outside money flowing in, that Iowans have been bombarded with as many political ads during the "slow" summer months as we would have seen ten or twenty years ago in September and October. I wonder whether television commercials are becoming less effective for political campaigns these days. So many people change the channel or avoid commercials altogether by using DVR or Netflix.

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson's guilty plea last week may or may not lead to other prosecutions in connection with Ron Paul's 2012 campaign, but it has already cost one former Paul staffer his job. Jesse Benton had been managing the re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. He resigned on Friday evening, citing "inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue."  

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Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 13:39:46 PM CDT

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that former State Senator Kent Sorenson has pleaded guilty to two charges related to hidden payments in exchange for supporting Ron Paul for president. When he abandoned his position as Michele Bachmann's Iowa campaign chair to endorse Paul less than a week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, rumors immediately circulated about alleged payments for his support. Sorenson repeatedly denied those rumors. However, he has now admitted that he received $73,000 in concealed payments after endorsing Paul. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying to journalists and giving false testimony to an independent counsel appointed to investigate various charges. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat last October, the same day that independent counsel filed a devastating report. Federal authorities have been investigating the case since last year.

After the jump I've enclosed the full Department of Justice press release, with more details about the plea deal. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. As far as I can tell, these charges are unrelated to any payments Sorenson allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign earlier in 2011. A former Bachmann campaign staffer made those claims in complaints he filed with the Federal Election Commission and with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. Another former Bachmann staffer signed an affidavit containing details on Sorenson's compensation for work supporting that campaign.

One mystery I hope someone will solve someday is whether Sorenson's attorney, Ted Sporer, lied on behalf of his client, or whether Sorenson lied to Sporer along with everyone else. Even on the day he resigned from the state legislature, Sorenson maintained he was an innocent victim of a "straight-up political witch hunt." A separate lawsuit that had alleged Sorenson stole a valuable e-mail list from a Bachmann staffer's computer was eventually settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Sorenson.

UPDATE: Russ Choma has more details at Open Secrets, including the full plea agreement. Highly recommend clicking through to read that whole post. I've enclosed excerpts below.

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Sources say FBI raided Kent Sorenson's house (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 12:35:00 PM CST

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson's political career is over, but his legal problems may be deepening. Robert Wenzel reported today at the Economic Policy Journal blog that two sources have confirmed "the FBI was at Sorenson's house for 7 hours" one day last week. "They took Sorenson's computers and the school-related computers of Sorenson's children. Notebooks and diaries were also taken."

In order to evade Iowa Senate ethics rules, Sorenson is alleged to have received payments from third parties for work promoting presidential candidates Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul. (See volume one and volume two of the lengthy report by special investigator Mark Weinhardt.) Some of those payments may have violated federal campaign finance laws. Wenzel discussed some possible national political reverberations from the FBI investigation. Assuming his sources are correct, I suspect this case will be a powerful deterrent to any Iowa lawmaker tempted to seek money for a future political endorsement.

Hat tip to Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders.

UPDATE: Sorenson's attorney said the search happened on November 20 and added,

"We were not notified that he was the target of any investigation," attorney Theodore Sporer told the [Des Moines] Register. "They took computers and things that would be used to verify or validate communications with presidential entities."

"It wasn't a 'raid,'" Sporer told the Register. "They executed a search warrant that, frankly, we anticipated was coming."

SECOND UPDATE: Enjoyed the Iowa .Gif-t Shop's take on this story.

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Julian Garrett will represent Iowa Senate district 13 next year

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 20, 2013 at 07:40:00 AM CST

State Representative Julian Garrett won yesterday's special election in Iowa Senate district 13 by 3,908 votes to 2,627 for Democrat Mark Davitt, according to unofficial results (59.8 percent to 40.2 percent). He carried both the election-day vote and and the early vote.

During the 2014 legislative session, Democrats will retain a 26 to 24 Iowa Senate majority. Garrett will face re-election next year but will be heavily favored unless one of the far-right Republicans who sought the nomination for the special manages to defeat him in the primary. In 2012, Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama by 51.4 percent of the vote to 47.2 percent in Senate district 13.

Iowa will be better off without Kent Sorenson's toxic presence in the state Senate, even though Garrett's victory makes this Senate district a safer Republican hold next November.

Garrett will soon resign as state representative, forcing a special election in Iowa House district 25 in early January. After the jump I've posted a map of that district, covering Madison County and parts of Warren County. In 2012, Garrett defeated Democratic challenger Katie Routh by 9,082 votes to 7,487 (54.8 percent to 45.1 percent), while the presidential vote in House district 25 split 54.1 percent for Romney, 44.3 percent for Obama.

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Iowa Senate district 13 special election set; Democrat Mark Davitt is running

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 14:14:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation today setting the special election to fill Iowa Senate district 13 for Tuesday, November 19. Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson resigned last week after special investigator Mark Weinhardt delivered an exhaustive report about Sorenson's alleged malfeasance to the Iowa Senate.

I highly recommend looking through Weinhardt's report (here are links to volume 1 and part 2). It astounds me that Sorenson is posturing as the victim of a "straight-up political witch hunt." Exhibit 12 in this part of Weinhardt's report summarizes an interview with Susan Geddes, who managed Sorenson's Iowa House campaign in 2008 and Iowa Senate campaign in 2010. She repeatedly warned Sorenson that he could not be paid by the Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign under Iowa Senate rules, and that the truth would catch up with him.

Republican blogger Craig Robinson discussed "winners and losers" in the Sorenson ordeal here. I largely agree with his list, but I would put Senate Minority leader Bill Dix in the loser category, as well as Senate Ethics Committee Republicans Jack Whitver and Jerry Behn. If they'd had their way, Weinhardt would never have been appointed to look into Sorenson's wrongdoing. Speaking of ethics, it is customary to link to a blog post when you mention it. Robinson referred to, but failed to link to, this Bleeding Heartland post about the legal problems of Sorenson's attorney, Ted Sporer.

Former Iowa House Democrat Mark Davitt announced today that he will run in the Senate district 13 special election. I've posted his press release after the jump. Davitt was born in Madison County and represented most of Warren County in the Iowa House for three terms before losing his seat to Sorenson in 2008. Republican State Representative Julian Garrett is running, but I expect at least one other person to seek the Republican nomination for the special election.

I enclosed a map of Senate district 13 after the jump. As of October 1, the district contained 13,293 registered Democrats, 15,013 Republicans, and 15,909 no-party voters.

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More fallout from Kent Sorenson resignation (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 03, 2013 at 12:27:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad praised Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix today for asking Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson to resign yesterday.

"I've tried to be very careful and that's why I was pleased that Bill Dix was the one that asked for his resignation and that he made the decision to resign," Branstad said. "I think it was handled in the appropriate way and I want to give the Republican leader in the senate credit for making the ask for the resignation in light of the report that was done."

According to O.Kay Henderson's report for Radio Iowa, Branstad never mentioned Sorenson by name today, referring to him as "he" or "the member." In early 2010, Sorenson vowed never to vote for Branstad. Sorenson's home base in Warren County was one of the strongest performers for Bob Vander Plaats in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Within five days, Branstad must set a date for the special election in Iowa Senate district 13. Whether Republicans retain the seat will not affect control of the Iowa Senate, where Democrats now have a 26 to 24 majority. Whoever wins the special will be up for re-election in 2014. I consider the GOP favored to hold Senate district 13. Theoretically, a Democratic candidate would have been better positioned to defeat Sorenson than someone else, but Sorenson's presence on the Iowa political scene was so toxic that we're all better off with him gone.

Sorenson's resignation does not preclude possible criminal prosecution. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone's office will review the report special investigator Mark Weinhardt filed yesterday with the Iowa Senate. Sorenson still claims he's done nothing wrong.

Talk radio host Steve Deace, who did more than anyone else to promote Sorenson's political career, finally commented on this mess. I've enclosed excerpts from his post after the jump.

UPDATE: Added a few comments from Sorenson's Senate Republican colleagues after the jump.

Weinhardt's report implicates David Polyansky, then a consultant for Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign, in arranging the payments for Sorenson. Polyansky is now a consultant for State Senator Joni Ernst's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

According to Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog, Wes Enos has resigned from the Iowa Senate GOP caucus staff. Enos was a senior official in Bachmann's campaign and publicly defended Sorenson against allegations that he had been paid to switch his support to Ron Paul. UPDATE: On October 4, Enos resigned as a member of the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee.

Enos said Friday he had defended Sorenson previously because he believed the Milo Republican hadn't done anything wrong. "The report was pretty damning and that is why I felt this was necessary....Realistically, now that we have seen the report it is best if I just kind step aside."
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Iowa House Democrat Scott Ourth rules out bid in Senate district 13

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 03, 2013 at 09:40:31 AM CDT

State Senator Kent Sorenson's resignation will force a special election in Iowa Senate district 13. The two sides of this Senate seat are House district 25, represented by two-term Republican Julian Garrett, and House district 26, represented by first-term Democrat Scott Ourth. I asked Ourth whether he would consider running in the special election. He responded,

"I am flattered and honored that so many of my neighbors and friends have asked me to consider a bid for the Iowa Senate seat vacated today by Senator Kent Sorenson.  I did not run for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives to use it as a launch pad for higher office.  The people of House District 26 placed their trust in me in the 2012 election, and I intend to represent them to the best of my ability. The voters of this district elected me to be their voice, and to advocate for them in the Iowa House.  Hence, I will continue my work as an Iowa State Representative, working to create jobs, improve education, support agriculture, and give voice to our seniors, veterans, and children."

John Deeth speculated about some possible candidates from both parties yesterday. Perhaps Mark Davitt, who lost his Iowa House seat to Sorenson in 2008, will take a shot at the special election. As for the Republicans, the Warren County GOP has plenty of ambitious tea party types, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Garrett stay in his Madison County-based House district. I doubt Jodi Tymeson would leave her new position as commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in the hope of joining the minority caucus in the Iowa Senate.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I've posted a map of Senate district 13 after the jump. As of October 1, the district contained 13,293 registered Democrats, 15,013 Republicans, and 15,909 no-party voters.

UPDATE: Speaking by telephone on October 3, Garrett told me he is thinking about running in the special election but hasn't made a decision yet.

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Curtain falls on Kent Sorenson's political career

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 17:47:00 PM CDT

State Senator Kent Sorenson resigned this afternoon after special investigator Mark Weinhardt filed a damning report with the Iowa Senate on Sorenson's conduct. Iowa Senate ethics rules don't allow senators to receive payment from political action committees, but Weinhardt found probable cause that money from political action committees supporting presidential candidate Michele Bachmann flowed to Sorenson indirectly by way of consulting firms. The Des Moines Register uploaded the more than 500-page report in two pdf file: volume one and volume two. Weinhardt also discussed "deeply suspicious" wire transfers and a check Sorenson received from a Ron Paul presidential campaign official.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register today, both Sorenson and his attorney Ted Sporer insisted that the senator never lied, because he was a subcontractor, not an employee of Bachmann's campaign.

Senate Ethics Committee Chair Wally Horn announced plans to convene a meeting of that committee next week. Later this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix said in a statement, "Today, I called for Senator Sorenson's resignation, and he agreed to do so effective immediately."

While looking for Dix's full statement on the Iowa Senate Republicans website, I was amused to see photos of Sorenson scrolling across the front page, featuring "latest news" from May 28. Apparently no one involved with the Senate GOP caucus has figured out how to keep the website up to date since Dix fired their key communications staffer in May. For fun and for posterity, I took a screen shot that I've posted after the jump.

Sorenson's resignation opens up Republican-leaning Senate district 13. I haven't heard yet about any candidates from either party planning to run for that seat in 2014. UPDATE: John Deeth speculates on possible candidates for the special election in that district. I think Iowa House Democrat Scott Ourth will stay in House district 26 rather than run for the Senate seat.

UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson posted the e-mail Sorenson sent to his constituents today. I've enclosed the relevant portion below. He accuses his opponents of conducting a "straight-up political witch hunt" against him because he tried to remove Iowa Supreme Court justices from the bench. What ever happened to personal responsibility?

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More bad news piling up for Kent Sorenson (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 07:20:00 AM CDT

Allegations that State Senator Kent Sorenson sought and received payment for endorsing presidential candidate Ron Paul are now the subject of a complaint with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. You can read the full text of Peter Waldron's latest complaint at The Iowa Republican blog. Earlier this year, the former consultant for Michele Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign filed complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, focused on alleged payments Sorenson received for his work on Bachmann's campaign. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady appointed a special investigator in May to look into those claims.

Since Sorenson appears determined to fight these charges rather than leave the political stage quietly, this saga could drag on for some time. Senate Ethics Committee Chair Wally Horn told Rod Boshart yesterday that committee members would meet soon "to discuss how to proceed."

Meanwhile, the U.S. House Ethics Committee voted last week to continue its investigation of the Bachmann presidential campaign, Kevin Diaz reported for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on September 11. Alleged payments to Sorenson feature prominently in that investigation. According to Diaz, the Office of Congressional Ethics board has recommended that Sorenson be subpoenaed, because he did not cooperate with investigators.

Sorenson may need to find a new attorney at some point. Former Polk County Republican Party chair Ted Sporer has been representing him so far. Multiple Bleeding Heartland readers have brought to my attention an August 16 decision by Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal. In that ruling, Judge Staskal found that "beyond a reasonable doubt," Sporer "fabricated evidence" and "lied under oath" to help a client who was violating the terms of a divorce decree. I've posted six pages from the 25-page decision after the jump. If Judge Staskal's findings become the subject of a formal complaint with the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission, Sporer might eventually be disbarred.

UPDATE: On September 18, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its latest report on most corrupt members of Congress. Bachmann made the list, in part because of activities allegedly linked to Sorenson's work for her campaign.

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Kent Sorenson poised to fight, not quit

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

Despite growing calls for him to resign, Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson signaled yesterday that he will fight a new ethics complaint based on alleged payments from Ron Paul's presidential campaign. The Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs reported that Peter Waldron plans to file a second complaint with the Iowa Senate, claiming that Sorenson worked with Paul campaign officials "to solicit and conceal compensation" for himself and others. Waldron is a political consultant who worked for Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign. Earlier this year, he filed complaints against Sorenson with the Federal Election Commission as well as with the Iowa Senate.

Documents and audio recordings published by The Iowa Republican blog indicate that intermediaries negotiated with Paul campaign officials on Sorenson's behalf, and that Sorenson later received a big check from a Paul campaign manager. But Sorenson's attorney Ted Sporer told the Des Moines Register that the charges are "gibberish."

Sporer confirmed [Dimitri] Kesari, against Sorenson's wishes, surreptitiously handed Sorenson's wife a check drawn on a retail business's bank account. But the check is still in Sorenson's possession, he said.

"It has never been cashed," Sporer said. "Obviously we can show it's never been cashed. And an uncashed check is simply an autograph."

Three weeks ago, Sporer told a Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter, "There was no money that changed hands. There was no direct or indirect payment from the Ron Paul campaign."

The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee won't be able to punt this time, but it may take months to investigate the new charges. Meanwhile, I haven't heard of anyone planning to challenge Sorenson in the GOP primary to represent Iowa Senate district 13. If I were a Republican in Warren or Madison County, I'd have started looking for a more viable candidate months ago.

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More Republican lawmakers call on Kent Sorenson to resign

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:15:00 AM CDT

A growing number of rank and file Iowa Republican lawmakers are ready to see State Senator Kent Sorenson exit the political stage as soon as possible. While legislative leaders have remained silent on the issue, yesterday State Senator Brad Zaun and State Representative Clel Baudler both called on Sorenson to resign over allegations that he solicited and received payments in exchange for ditching Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign for Ron Paul.  
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Sorenson scandal reflects poorly on Iowa Gun Owners group

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 09, 2013 at 12:20:00 PM CDT

The scandal of State Senator Kent Sorenson demanding and apparently receiving money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul for president has the potential to do a lot of collateral damage in Iowa Republican circles. Note the conspicuous silence of state party leaders this week--shocking on one level but less surprising when you consider that several Iowa GOP State Central Committee members worked closely with Paul's campaign.

The Sorenson story is also a huge black eye for the Iowa Gun Owners group, which claims to be "Iowa's only No Compromise gun rights organization."

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How long can Iowa Republicans stand by Kent Sorenson? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 07, 2013 at 08:53:00 AM CDT

Following up on yesterday's bombshell news, The Iowa Republican publisher Craig Robinson has now published an audio recording with transcript of State Senator Kent Sorenson describing how he took money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul for president.

There is no excuse for Sorenson's behavior or the continued silence of state Republican Party leaders. I don't care if Iowa GOP Chair A.J. Spiker and several state central committee members are old "Paulinista" buddies with Sorenson. You have to be blind not to see the damage Sorenson has already done to the Iowa caucuses. Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix may be afraid to take a public stand because Sorenson has a cheering squad among social conservatives, but this man does not belong in the Iowa Senate.

I will update this post as needed, and I hope it will be needed.

UPDATE: Sorenson's attorney Ted Sporer told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that no money changed hands, either directly or indirectly, between Sorenson and the Paul campaign. Is he lying, or did his client lie to him?

So far I've seen no comment about this scandal from conservative talk radio host Steve Deace, a longtime Sorenson ally. Deace's motto is "Fear God, Tell the Truth, and Make Money." I guess two out of three ain't bad.

Conservative radio host Simon Conway commented on the Sorenson allegations, "Does not look good." An understatement, but at least it's something. Conway added, "We did a full hour on this yesterday and will be doing more today."

SECOND UPDATE: As of the late afternoon on August 7, Iowa Senate Republicans had "no comment at this time" regarding Sorenson. Unreal.

THIRD UPDATE: The source for this story, former Ron Paul aide Dennis Fusaro, spoke to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, The Iowa Republican posted audio and transcript of a different conversation between Sorenson and Fusaro about the check Sorenson received.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz became the first GOP elected official to say Sorenson should resign if the allegations are true.

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Republican blog drops Kent Sorenson bombshell

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 06, 2013 at 15:11:00 PM CDT

Since the day State Senator Kent Sorenson dumped Michele Bachmann for Ron Paul, Iowa politics watchers have speculated that he was paid well to do so. Earlier this year, news emerged of indirect payments totaling $7,500 per month from entities supporting Bachmann to Sorenson while he chaired her presidential campaign in Iowa. Today The Iowa Republican blog's publisher Craig Robinson posted e-mails and memos detailing a large "payoff" for Sorenson in exchange for publicly endorsing Paul.

I hope these allegations will generate momentum in the Iowa legislature to prohibit lawmakers from being paid by political campaigns. An ethics investigation of Sorenson is pending, but these rules should be written into state law in my opinion. The integrity of the Iowa caucuses is undermined by the perception that presidential candidates can buy state legislators.

I assume that whoever leaked this information to The Iowa Republican is hoping that Sorenson will either resign or lose in a GOP primary to represent Senate district 13 next year. It's a district Republicans "should" hold, but Sorenson is surely not the best candidate to accomplish that goal. To my knowledge, no Republican has announced plans to challenge Sorenson in a primary. He has passionate defenders in the social conservative wing, thanks to his uncompromising stance on Medicaid abortion funding, his hostility toward an LGBT youth conference, his support for impeaching Iowa Supreme Court justices and bringing back the death penalty, among other issues.

It's worth noting that Robinson has never been sympathetic to the Ron Paul faction within the Iowa GOP. His website displayed a strong "Rick Santorum" slant in late 2011 and early 2012. Critics have even accused Robinson of taking money in exchange for promoting a certain angle at The Iowa Republican. Still, today's post on Sorenson's "payoff" is a must-read.

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Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa Senate districts

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 10:57:01 AM CDT

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district. Yesterday the Iowa numbers were added to the database. You can view Google documents with raw vote totals and percentages for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by Iowa Congressional district here, by Iowa Senate district here, and by Iowa House district here.

Looking closely at the presidential vote in the legislative districts provides some insight about where the competitive Iowa statehouse races might be next year. After the jump I've highlighted some key data points related to the Iowa Senate races. Later I will post a separate diary with first thoughts about the Iowa House districts.

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Weekend open thread: "Not guilty" doesn't mean "did the right thing"

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jul 13, 2013 at 21:58:00 PM CDT

A Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of both second-degree murder and manslaughter today in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The verdict doesn't surprise me. No one witnessed the whole encounter that led Zimmerman to shoot an unarmed teenager. Although I did not watch the trial, I gather from commentaries and coverage at Talk Left and elsewhere that the defense turned several of the prosecution witnesses and produced their own witnesses supporting parts of Zimmerman's story. They didn't need to prove the self-defense narrative--only create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.

That said, I doubt any jury would have acquitted an African-American man of shooting an unarmed white teenager under the same circumstances.

Roberto Martinez, a former U.S. attorney in Florida's Southern District, made the case for a manslaughter conviction in the Miami Herald. I recommend reading the whole piece, but I've posted an excerpt after the jump. Even those who believe the jury reached the right verdict from a narrow legal perspective should acknowledge that Zimmerman's stupid and reckless behavior caused the death of an innocent child. This verdict does not vindicate the actions of vigilante wannabe cops.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

UPDATE: Why am I not surprised? State Senator Kent Sorenson (contender for creepiest Iowa lawmaker) celebrated the verdict as "a victory for 2nd Amendment rights around the nation." Hat tip to Christian Ucles, who commented, "Really Kent? The death of a child is a victory for 2nd amendment rights. [...] You make me sick. I can't believe to think that you and I both went to the same church, an considered you a Brother in Christ. You value guns and the actions of gun owners over the lives of children not your own?" In the comment thread, Sorenson responded, "Your [sic] a political hack that [sic] doesn't care about anything other then [sic] your parties [sic] talking points!"

SECOND UPDATE: Iowa House Democrat Ako Abdul-Samad reacted to the verdict here.

THIRD UPDATE: Comments from President Barack Obama and Representative Steve King are after the jump. King really goes out of his way to stir up the pot sometimes.

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Kent Sorenson is big winner in Bachmann lawsuit settlement

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 01, 2013 at 08:00:00 AM CDT

Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson no longer has to worry about open court testimony regarding his alleged theft of a homeschooling organization's e-mail list on behalf of Representative Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign in late 2011. Bachmann has settled the lawsuit her former presidential campaign staffer Barb Heki announced last year. On Friday, Heki's attorney filed legal papers to dismiss the case. In a statement provided to The Iowa Republican blog, Bachmann said,

"Barb Heki is a trustworthy person and a woman of integrity. She was a loyal member of the Bachmann for President team and capably performed her duties. I am not aware of any evidence whatsoever that Barb had any part in misusing or misappropriating NICHE's email list of homeschoolers and I consider her an exemplary homeschooling leader."

It's not clear whether Bachmann agreed to pay any compensation to Heki or her husband for damage done to their reputations. They had to resign from a national homeschooling organization's board after the Bachmann campaign hung Heki out to dry. Heki won't be able to re-file the lawsuit, because it was dismissed "with prejudice."

Sorenson's attorney Ted Sporer told the Des Moines Register that "the settlement included a release of all claims with no admission of wrongdoing by his client." Previously, a trial date for Heki's lawsuit had been set for May 2014, meaning the case would have been big local news shortly before the June primary election. To my knowledge, no Republican has declared plans to challenge Sorenson in Iowa Senate district 13, but I'd be looking for new representation if I were a Republican in that district. A former aide to Sorenson acknowledged downloading the list from Heki's computer, but other sources have said Sorenson was involved.

Technically, the Urbandale Police Department has a criminal case open regarding the theft, but I doubt charges will ever be filed. Sorenson still faces an ethics investigation into indirect salary payments he allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign, but I don't expect the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee to impose any serious consequences.  

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Last-minute Iowa legislative scramble is nothing to brag about

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 24, 2013 at 12:30:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate wrapped up its work for the year shortly after midnight on May 23, and Iowa House members adjourned about 11 hours later. Lawmakers in both parties have been congratulating themselves for compromising on some big issues that ended in stalemate the previous two years. Rod Boshart compiled an excellent list of what the legislature did and didn't approve during 2013.

We all can appreciate the desire to finish a big project before a holiday weekend, and since legislators stopped receiving per diem payments weeks ago, they understandably wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. However, I found it disturbing that votes were held before most lawmakers, let alone members of the public, had time to digest final conference committee deals on education reform, an alternative to Medicaid expansion, property taxes, and the health and human services budget. Transparency isn't just a buzzword. Had journalists and advocacy groups been able to look over the last-minute compromises, people might have discovered problematic language or even simple drafting errors, which could produce unintended consequences after Governor Terry Branstad signs these bills into law.

I have a lot of questions about the final education reform bill and the plan to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans, particularly those earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level. I also need more time to sort through the budget numbers and final changes to the standings bill. After the holiday weekend Bleeding Heartland will examine the important results of the legislative session in more detail. For now, I've posted after the jump details on who voted for and against the major bills approved this week.

UPDATE: In the May 24 edition of the On Iowa Politics podcast, statehouse reporters Mike Wiser and James Lynch discussed how the big issues came together "behind closed doors," with no public scrutiny or oversight. Lynch commented that to his knowledge, the conference committee named to resolve the impasse over Medicaid expansion never formally met, except perhaps for one organizational meeting. Lynch recounted one occasion when Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton was briefing journalists about the health care talks, and the journalists asked when that happened, since there hadn't been any public notices of conference committee meetings. According to Lynch, Heaton replied, "We're not having meetings, but we're meeting." Senate President Pam Jochum said that negotiations between Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer produced the "key to Iowa's health care compromise." Notably, Upmeyer didn't have a prominent role in passing the House health insurance plan, nor was she named to the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate proposals.

Speaking to journalists on May 22, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Jochum weren't able to answer a specific question about compromise wording reached regarding Medicaid coverage of abortions. That was no minor issue--it was the last sticking point holding up approval of the health and human services budget. In effect, Gronstal told journalists, you can see the wording after the final bill is published.

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FBI involved in Bachmann campaign investigation

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 20, 2013 at 11:18:00 AM CDT

The FBI is interviewing witnesses to alleged illegal payments involving staffers for Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign, Kevin Diaz reported for the Star Tribune over the weekend. One of the key witnesses, Bachmann's former chief of staff Andy Parrish, recently submitted a sworn statement to the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, leading to the appointment of a special investigator for an ethics complaint against Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson.

Follow me after the jump for more details.

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