A former staffer on Representative Michelle Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa has sued the candidate and several other former staffers over the alleged theft of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators statewide e-mail list last November.
Barbara Heki joined Bachmann’s presidential campaign in the summer of 2011, having served for 10 years on the board of directors for NICHE, the largest homeschooling non-profit organization in Iowa. In December of last year, her name surfaced after the president of NICHE apologized to members who received unauthorized e-mails from the Bachmann campaign.
Justin LaVan, president of The Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, said the group was investigating how the Bachmann campaign got a hold of the email list and said the campaign’s emails violated federal election laws.
LaVan speculated that Barb Heki, a NICHE board member and paid Bachmann staffer, inadvertently transferred the organization’s email list to the campaign’s database. […]
“I want to apologize on behalf of the NICHE Board and advise you that we discovered that our list of homeschool contacts was uploaded without our knowledge or permission by the Michele Bachmann Campaign and used twice for e-mails from her campaign,” Justin LaVan, president of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, wrote to members in an email.
LaVan told ABC News that Heki “was the only connection we can figure out” and speculated that she had “a computer with NICHE stuff and campaign stuff and somehow the files got mixed up.” He said he did not believe the campaign intended to steal the email addresses and accepted the campaign’s apology. […]
In a statement to ABC News, Bachmann campaign manager Keith Nahigian called the email blast a mistake.
“Bachmann for President was recently notified that two campaign emails were mistakenly sent to a NICHE email list,” Nahigian said in an email.
Heki and her husband, Richard Heki, had to step down from the NICHE board because of this scandal. Yesterday the Hekis filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court against the following defendants: Michele Bachmann, the Bachmann for President campaign, former campaign staffers State Senator Kent Sorenson, Keith Nahigian, Guy Short, Brett O’Donnell, Rebecca Donatelli, Eric Woolson, and former campaign consultants Nahigian Strategies LLC and C&M Strategies, Inc., Campaign Services, Inc., and The Concept Works, Inc.
You can download the Hekis’ court filing here (pdf). The lawsuit alleges that Heki told Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chair Sorenson “of her inability to share the NICHE database or release any information from the database to the campaign.” It further alleges that Sorenson “stole the NICHE email list from Barbara’s private computer in Barbara’s private office at the Bachmann campaign headquarter,” after which the campaign “at the direction of some or all of the Defendants” used the list to send e-mail messages around November 10, 2011.
I don’t understand why Heki kept the NICHE database on a computer at Bachmann campaign headquarters. It would have been safer for her to store her private computer and all the NICHE materials at her home in Johnston. Anyway, here is an excerpt from pages 4 and 5 of the Hekis’ court filing.
37. When NICHE discovered the unauthorized use of the email list, the Bachmann campaign at the direction of some or all of the Defendants concealed the theft of the list by Kent Sorenson.
38. Some or all of the Defendants instead inferred to the media and public that Barbara Heki had misappropriated and misused the email list from NICHE.
39. Some of all of the Defendants failed to correct media reports that Barbara Heki had misappropriated and misused the email list from NICHE.
40. On or about November 29, 2011, Barbara and Richard Heki were removed by the NICHE board from their positions as directors as a result of the Defendants’ actions in covering up the crimes committed and not revealing Barbara’s innocence. Additionally, this resulted in Barbara and Richard Heki being similarly removed from a national organization of homeschooling leaders in which they were actively involved, cutting off their long-time ministry relationships with homeschooling leaders nationwide.
41. As a result of the Defendants’ actions, the Plaintiffs have been isolated and expelled from their professional, social, political, and spiritual lives and careers, in Iowa and nationally.
42. Plaintiffs have suffered severe emotional distress and loss of current and future business opportunities as a direct result of Defendants’ actions.
The lawsuit lists eight counts:
1. trespass (allegedly stealing the database)
2. conversion (allegedly invading property rights by converting the NICHE database from Heki)
3. computer trespass (Sorenson allegedly gaining unauthorized access to Heki’s private office, private computer, and NICHE database)
4. misappropriation of trade secrets (the NICHE database of email addresses)
5. invasion of privacy (again related to Sorenson’s alleged trespass on Heki’s computer)
6. libel and slander (written or oral statements to the media implicating Heki in the misuse of the email list)
7. conspiracy (Defendants allegedly conspiring to cover up the truth about how the NICHE database was obtained)
8. concerted action by one of more of the Defendants (including but not limited to allegedly “assisting Kent Sorenson in committing the trespass and theft; distracting Barbara Heki so that Kent Sorenson could commit the trespass and theft; permitting Kent Sorenson to engage in the trespass and theft; and acquiescing in or ratifying the theft of the full NICHE database from Barbara Heki.”)
If the plaintiffs have evidence that Sorenson stole the NICHE email list, they haven’t laid it out in this court filing. It’s not clear what is supporting their “information and belief” that Sorenson was responsible for the alleged theft, or that other Bachmann campaign officials conspired to authorize and cover up that theft. Speaking to Politico, Sorenson said Heki’s allegations “absolutely did not happen.”
I did notice one small error in the “factual background” section of the court filing: “During all relevant times until on or about January 4, 2012, Kent Sorenson was the Iowa State Chair for the Bachmann campaign.” Actually, Sorenson jumped ship for Ron Paul’s campaign on December 28, 2011.
The Hekis have requested a jury trial. That will be a long time coming. I doubt the defendants will agree to settle out of court. Probably one or more will move for dismissal of the lawsuit.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: From Kevin Hall’s post at The Iowa Republican blog:
Barb Heki says she found out on January 4, the day after the Iowa Caucus, that the campaign’s use of the list was deliberate. The news came from a surprising source.
“Michele (Bachmann) told me,” Heki said. “We had a private staff luncheon right after she left the race and she came up to me then and told me that she was told that Kent did it. I was flabbergasted. When Michele and I got done talking, I walked straight over to Eric Woolson and asked him if it was true. He said, “Yes.” […]
She also has a witness to her charges against Sorenson and the Bachmann campaign.
“I certainly can attest that I was in the office and I was aware that the list was taken,” a senior Bachmann campaign aide, who asked that their name be withheld, tells TheIowaRepublican.com. “I can attest to the fact that Kent Sorenson was part of the process of removing the list.”
The source adds that the people in charge of Bachmann’s national campaign were aware of the situation and conducted a serious internal debate about how to handle it.
“I am confident that Kent Sorenson participated in the theft and I am confident that members of the senior staff were aware of it, certainly on or before December,” the former Bachmann aide said. “And they debated it for three weeks, the senior staff, what to do. Over loud objections, they let Barb take the fall for it.”
SECOND UPDATE: The most prominent Bachmann campaign staffer in Iowa who is not named as a defendant in Heki’s lawsuit is Wes Enos. He was Bachmann’s political director and is a member of the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee. I suspect he is Hall’s source.