Kent Sorenson will serve time over illegal campaign payments

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson will spend time in prison for taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul shortly before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Sorenson pled guilty to the federal offenses more than two years ago, but his sentencing was delayed repeatedly as he cooperated with investigators looking into conduct by others. Sorenson’s testimony helped to convict three former senior Paul campaign officials of crimes including conspiracy, causing false campaign expenditure reporting and making false statements.

Prosecutors recommended probation and community service for Sorenson, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt sentenced him to 15 months in prison today, Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register. Pratt described Sorenson’s actions as “the definition of political corruption.”

In contrast, prosecutors had sought sentences of two years in prison for Paul’s former campaign chairman Jesse Benton and campaign manager John Tate. But last September, District Court Judge John Jarvey sentenced them to two years probation and $10,000 fines instead. The same judge sentenced former deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari to three months in prison for orchestrating the illegal payments scheme.

One thing I’ve never understood: why did federal prosecutors focus only on crimes involving Paul’s operatives, when Sorenson also conspired to accept $7,500 per month from entities linked to Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign? A special investigator’s report on payments from pro-Bachmann committees prompted Sorenson to resign from the Iowa Senate in 2013.

Sorenson avoided trial on domestic abuse charges last year by pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

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Steve King defends scrapping Ethics Office; Blum and Young say they oppose

The main order of business in the U.S. House on January 3 was electing the speaker on the first day of the new session. House members returned Paul Ryan to that position with only one dissenting vote from the GOP caucus, in contrast to January 2015, when Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and Steve King (IA-04) were among 25 Republicans not supporting Speaker John Boehner’s re-election.

The big news on Tuesday, however, was House Republicans backpedaling on their vote the previous night to gut the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

While staff for dozens of House members hid behind “we don’t know” or “we’ll get back to you” in response to constituent calls, King became one of the few “loud and proud” supporters of the amendment. In fact, he will seek to abolish the office rather than merely neutering it.

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Kent Sorenson sentencing delayed as he cooperates with federal investigators

Nearly six months after he pled guilty to receiving hidden payments for endorsing Ron Paul, former State Senator Kent Sorenson still hasn’t been sentenced and won’t be for some time. Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register,

In a [February 19] hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt, attorneys for the government and for Sorenson agreed to delay sentencing in the case until April. The reason, Justice Department lead attorney Robert Higdon Jr. said, was that the government was “engaged” and “making progress” on a “larger investigation” into the 2012 presidential race. […]

It is unclear exactly who may be the target of the ongoing investigation, but questions have been raised about top aides in Paul’s 2012 campaign.

Sorenson received shady indirect payments from Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign for months, but his guilty plea was related to a payment scheme he negotiated with Ron Paul supporters. Russ Choma reported last year for the Open Secrets blog,

Sources say two grand juries are looking into the 2012 campaigns of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whom Sorenson originally endorsed, and Paul, to whom Sorenson switched his support just days before the Iowa caucuses. A number of individuals confirmed to OpenSecrets Blog that they had been interviewed by FBI agents, the grand juries, or both.

Click through for more speculation on angles federal investigators may be pursuing.

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Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

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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Curtain falls on Kent Sorenson's political career

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 files: 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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