Iowa Senate Ethics Committee punts on Sorenson allegation

The Iowa Senate Ethics committee (unofficial slogan: “See no evil, hear no evil”) met yesterday to consider an ethics complaint filed against Republican Senator Kent Sorenson. Five of the six committee members voted to table two serious allegations raised by Peter Waldron, who was a consultant for Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign while Sorenson was the campaign’s Iowa chair in 2011.

Bleeding Heartland discussed the background to Waldron’s claims against Sorenson here. O.Kay Henderson covered yesterday’s Senate Ethics Committee hearing for Radio Iowa, including partial audio from the proceedings. Both Mike Wiser and William Petroski also reported on the meeting. From Petroski’s piece:

– Voted 4-2 to dismiss an allegation that Sorenson didn’t file a disclosure statement regarding the nature of the business in which he was engaged. Greiner said Sorenson adequately provided information regarding his work as a consultant and there was no reason to proceed on the complaint. Seng voted no along with Sen. Dick Dearden, R-Des Moines. Those voting to dismiss included Greiner, Ethics Committee Chairman Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, and Republican Sens. Jerry Behn of Boone and Jack Whitver of Ankeny

– Voted 5-1 to request further information on a complaint that Sorenson allegedly broke the law by taking a private home school list from former Iowa campaign staffer Barbara Heki’s private computer in her office. A civil lawsuit is currently pending regarding the matter, and Greiner said it would be improper for legislators to insert themselves into legal proceedings.

– Voted 5-1 to request more information regarding an allegation that Sorenson allegedly concealed $7,500 a month in personal compensation to serve as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman.

All of the Ethics Committee members except for Democrat Joe Seng are willing to dismiss those other two charges unless Waldron comes up with more proof.

The other part of the complaint – also tabled today – alleges Sorenson was paid $7500 a month with money that originated in the Bachmann campaign fund, but was funnelled to a consulting firm that paid Sorenson to get around state senate rules which prohibit senators from getting paid to work on campaigns. Greiner and a majority of the committee said “unless and until” the Florida pastor supplies more information, the complaint ultimately will be dismissed.

“What we had in that packet was a bunch of fuzzy stuff and very few facts,” Greiner said. “…He cites anonymous sources that are willing to go under oath. It’s kind of difficult to put people under oath if they’re anonymous. We need to know who these people are and we need facts before we can do anything.”

Seng isn’t my favorite Iowa Senate Democrat, but he was the only one on that committee making sense yesterday:

He said he favored having Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady appoint investigators to look into the complaints to determine if there was probable cause.

“This is a very serious allegation,” Seng said. “I hate to make a decision as a legislator not having all the information….I think that this would be the best avenue to go.”

Predictably, Sorenson declared victory, saying “I think it shows, and the committee agrees, that the allegations were baseless.” Not at all:

“It wasn’t a presumption of innocence or guilt,” Seng said. “The (investigation) seemed a more, better alternative where a Supreme Court justice could give us a reason to see if there was a probable cause for this to go forward.”

Waldron spoke to Radio Iowa’s Henderson after the meeting.

As for providing the committee with more information about the allegation that Senator Sorenson was paid with money that came from the campaign, Waldron said Bachmann got other campaign employees to sign agreements the prevent them from revealing what they know.

“I did not sign the non-disclosure agreement,” Waldron said. “My faith does not allow me to remain mute as a witness to a crime.”

Waldron said he read Scripture and prayed this afternoon as the Ethics Committee met, and he’s hoping other Bachmann campaign employees come forward to provide senators with the information the committee has decided it needs to proceed with an investigation of Sorenson.

“I’ll leave it to God and their own conscience to take the risk,” Waldron said. “I can’t push them into a risk.”

Sounds like Sorenson is going to skate this time. If I were a Republican, though, I’d be looking for a better candidate in Madison or Warren County to run for the Senate next year.  

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