Kent Sorenson's prison sentence will stand

A panel of judges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt did not abuse his discretion by sentencing former State Senator Kent Sorenson to 15 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had recommended probation after Sorenson admitted to taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul for president, citing his cooperation with investigations of former Paul campaign operatives. But Pratt concluded that “Defendant’s conduct, viewed through the lens of America’s traditional understanding of the profound evils of political corruption, requires a substantial sentence.” A term of probation would not “reflect the seriousness” of his offenses, nor would it “deter others from engaging in similar criminal conduct.”

Sorenson appealed the sentence on several grounds. The Appeals Court found Pratt was not required to consider the value of Sorenson’s campaign work as a mitigating factor, nor was he wrong to consider the senator’s public office when imposing a sentence. I enclose below today’s full decision from the Eighth Circuit panel. You can read the District Court’s lengthy sentencing memorandum here.

Sorenson began serving time in March at a federal prison in Illinois. According to a September blog post by Shawnee Sorenson, her husband will transfer to a halfway house in January to finish his sentence. She had previously accused Judge Pratt of imposing a harsh punishment as “retribution for the work Kent did to unseat three unlawful Supreme Court Justices and unseat a current Supreme Court Justices [sic] wife.” Sorenson campaigned against retaining three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010, the same year he defeated Democratic State Senator Staci Appel. Her husband, Brent Appel, continues to serve on the high court.

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Iowa Supreme Court suspends Ted Sporer's law license for six months

A once-prominent voice for central Iowa Republicans will be unable to practice law for six months under an Iowa Supreme Court ruling announced yesterday. In a unanimous decision enclosed in full below, the justices found that Ted Sporer made “false statements to a tribunal” and engaged in “misrepresentation or deceit,” as well as conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” For Sporer’s side of the story, watch his presentation during last month’s oral arguments before the high court (video also enclosed below).

The disciplinary action stemmed from a 2013 case, in which Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal determined “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sporer “fabricated evidence” and “lied under oath” to help a client who was violating the terms of a divorce decree. Bleeding Heartland posted relevant excerpts from that ruling here.

The Supreme Court’s Grievance Commission had recommended the six-month suspension, citing “significant aggravating circumstances”: Sporer’s long experience as an attorney, violations of multiple ethics rules, and prior disciplinary history including a public reprimand. Scroll to the end of this post to read a 2011 letter to Sporer from the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board, citing misrepresentations to a client he had failed to represent “with reasonable diligence and promptness.”

Sporer chaired the Polk County Republican Party from 2001 to 2009 and served on the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee from 2002 to 2008, during which time he spent five years as the GOP’s State Organization Chairman. He was also an active voice in Iowa’s conservative blogosphere during the last decade. However, he has not updated The Real Sporer blog since 2012.

The last time Sporer was in the news, he was representing then State Senator Kent Sorenson in a lawsuit over allegedly stolen e-mails (which was later settled out of court) and during a criminal investigation of Sorenson’s actions before and after the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Sporer repeatedly denied his client had received any “direct or indirect payment from the Ron Paul campaign.” Even as revelations about payments from Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign forced Sorenson to resign from the Iowa Senate, Sporer continued to insist his client had not lied. Sorenson later pled guilty to the hidden payment scheme and was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison after cooperating with the federal investigation into former Paul campaign operatives.

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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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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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