A former Iowa state senator has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he accepted money from the Ron Paul 2012 presidential campaign to switch his endorsement from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who was also running for the GOP White House nomination.
Kent Sorenson, of Milo, Iowa, has been at the center of accusations that he was paid for his endorsement, first by the Bachmann campaign and then by the Paul campaign, in late 2011. Sorenson switched his endorsement at the last moment before the Iowa caucuses in the 2012 race, but vehemently denied he had been paid to do so.
Last year, OpenSecrets blog published emails alleged to be between Ron Paul campaign officials and representatives of Sorenson discussing Sorenson’s demands for payment. Later, audio recordings emerged in which Sorenson discussed how a Paul operative named Dimitri Kesari offered him a $25,000 check, written in the name of a jewelry shop owned by Kesari’s wife, to switch sides. Sorenson denied cashing the check but later admitted to an independent investigator from the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee that he had received payments from a company in Maryland.
Today (Aug. 27, 2014), the Department of Justice said that Sorenson pleaded guilty to two federal charges, for receiving payment to switch his endorsement and for obstructing justice in attempting to conceal those payments.
The DOJ statement does not name the campaigns involved, but describes Sorenson as admitting to receiving monthly payments of $8,000 from the campaign of the candidate he ultimately endorsed, and admitting the payments were funneled through a film production company and then through a second company.
The Paul campaign’s 2012 expenditures reports show that $82,375 was paid to a Hyattsville, Md.-based video company called Interactive Communications, Inc. According to bank records discovered during the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee investigation, Sorenson received payments from a firm called “ICT, Inc”, based at the same Hyattsville address, that closely matched the payments the campaign made.
For example, the campaign reported to the Federal Election Commission that on Feb. 8, 2012, it paid $38,125 to Interactive Communications. On Feb. 9, ICT Inc. wired Sorenson $33,000. Then, on April 3, the campaign paid Interactive Communications $17,770, and on April 9, ICT wired Sorenson $16,000.
On May 4, the campaign paid Interactive Communications $8,850, and on the same day ICT wired Sorenson $8,000. The same thing happened twice more, with Sorenson pocketing a total of $73,000 from ICT Inc. between February and July of 2012. The Ron Paul presidential campaign paid Interactive Communications $83,375 over the same period.
Neither Lori Pyeatt, Ron Paul’s granddaughter and the treasurer of his 2012 presidential campaign, nor Jesse Benton, who was Paul’s campaign manager (and is now manager of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign), had responded to requests for comment at the time this post was published.
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It isn’t clear if the investigation is continuing, but Sorenson has been granted immunity from further prosecution on federal and state charges, as has his wife, according to the plea agreement. OpenSecrets.org has learned that two grand juries have been investigating the events in Iowa, one focused on the Paul campaign and one on Bachmann’s. Last August, OpenSecrets.org published a copy of a memo written by Aaron Dorr, the head of the Iowa Gun Owners, in which he outlined Sorenson’s demands to switch his endorsement. Included in the emails surrounding the negotiations were several top Paul campaign officials, including Benton.
Nobody has been indicted in connection with making the payments to Sorenson.
Sorenson could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the two counts.