Top Ron Paul Campaign Aides Found Guilty On All Counts

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Photo by Dave Davidson –

As Donald Trump was putting an end to the primary phase of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign this week, a federal court concluded its criminal trial against three Republican campaign operatives for their underhanded and shady dealings in the previous presidential contest.

Jurors found Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign chairman, John Tate, Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign manager, and Dimitri Kesari, Paul’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, guilty of charges ranging for conspiracy to causing false records and campaign expenditures. The trio of national political operatives who once made up Paul’s inner political circle was tried in federal court in Iowa and is now awaiting sentencing.

The scheme involved paying Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa legislator and chairman of Michelle Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, more than $73,000 to switch his allegiance to Ron Paul just days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.   As a State Senator, Sorenson would be in violation of Iowa Senate rules if he accepted financial compensation from the Paul campaign, so the high-ranking Paul operatives concocted a scheme that paid Sorenson through vendors who did no work for the Paul campaign.

Sorenson resigned from the Iowa Senate in the fall of 2013. The following August, he pled guilty to one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report expenditures and one count of obstruction of justice for concealing. Sorenson is still awaiting sentencing for his part of the scheme, but his cooperation with federal prosecutors will now likely get him a more lenient sentence. Sorenson faces up to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the cover up.

The entire ordeal spans parts of two presidential campaigns and lasted almost six years. was the first to break the details of Sorenson’s involvement with the three senior members of Ron Paul’s campaign. While Sorenson was already dealing with an Iowa Senate Ethics complaint stemming from his financial compensation from the Bachmann campaign and the theft of a database belonging to an Iowa Homeschool organization, it was his involvement with the Paul campaign that ultimately brought him down.

The scandal has been national news and has even caused problems in the 2016 Republican race for president. Benton and Tate led a Super PAC that was supportive of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s bid before he dropped out of the race. Benton is also currently involved in a pro-Trump Super PAC. Needless to say, being convicted of multiple crimes will make it impossible to maintain his involvement in any political committee.

While was responsible for shedding light on this scandal, justice would have never been served, and thus the credibility of our political process would not have been preserved, had it not been for Dennis Fusaro, the primary source of all the evidence the entire case was built upon.

Fusaro was Ron Paul’s national field director in 2008. He was also the former Executive Director of Iowans for Right to Work Committee and the National Right to Work Committee. He had worked with all those involved in the cover-up, including Sorenson, from his time working in Iowa politics.

“This is not a happy moment for me or anyone concerned with true Liberty,” Fusaro said after being reached for comment after the guilty verdict. “I tried to get Jesse Benton to come clean on his own and clean it up internally, but instead I was mocked and insulted by him.”

“The cover-up is always worse than the crime,” Fusaro added. “They could have told the truth to the voters of Iowa that Kent Sorenson had been paid or offered payment to endorse Ron Paul. They could have thumbed their noses at the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee and made a First Amendment stand over the right to associate for Kent Sorenson. Instead they chose to take on the federal government.”

Another integral figure in exposing this scheme was former State Senator Sandy Greiner. While Republican leaders in the Iowa Senate wished to quietly sweep Sorenson’s transgressions under the rug, it was Greiner who stood alone against her own party and provided the critical fourth vote on the Senate Ethics Committee to appoint an independent investigator to look into Sorenson’s dealings with both presidential campaigns.

On Facebook on Thursday afternoon, Greiner referred to the situation as, “The darkest days of my entire Legislative career.” Greiner added, “I really felt an investigation by Independent Counsel was the only way to clear the air. I take no joy in the outcome.”

After the Senate Ethics Committee voted in favor of appointing independent counsel who would have subpoena power, the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court appointed Des Moines attorney Mark E. Weinhardt to investigate. It was his 556-page report that came out in October of 2013, just two months after broke the story, that lead forced Sorenson to resign. Soon after, federal authorities charged those involved with scheme for their involvement.

For many Iowans, this story began and ended with Kent Sorenson.   While the this entire case involved him, Thursday’s guilty verdicts prove that the scandal was much bigger than just a State Senator getting paid under the table for an endorsement. While it may have seemed at times that there was an effort to “get” Sorenson, the truth of the matter is that he was the only way expose the corruption in at the highest levels of a presidential campaign.

Not only has justice been served, but hopefully the integrity of the political process has also been preserved.




Iowa Republicans Appear to be Open to Immigration Reform

immigration-reformAn Iowa presidential poll conducted back in April by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that advocates for immigration reform, shows that the actual views of Republican caucus goers on the hot-button issues may be different than you might expect.

When likely caucus goers were asked if they would be willing to support a candidate for President who supports a multi-step approach to granting illegal immigrants legal status, 81 percent of respondents said yes.

The steps being discussed in the poll included a requirement to pay a fine, back taxes, learn English and American civics, be financially self-supporting, and pass a criminal background check in addition to securing the border, and implementing an updated workplace employment verification system.

The perception of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses is that they are typically dominated by staunch conservatives, yet the results of this poll that focuses on the immigration issues paints a much different picture on this particular issue.

Even when asked if they would be willing to support a presidential candidate that supports all of the previous stated immigration reforms but also would allow illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship after waiting at least ten years, the number supporting that position only drops to 74 percent.

The poll also shows that only 30 percent of likely Republican caucus goers believe that all undocumented immigrants living in the United States should be required to leave the U.S. The people who hold that position are fairly firm in their beliefs. Even when told that it would cost taxpayers an estimated $400 to $600 billion dollars and up to 20 years to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants, only 5 percent would change their position.

Immigration is a tricky issue in Iowa. If the issue is not a hot topic of debate nationally, it doesn’t seem to be much of a difference maker in caucus campaigns and local elections. This was the case in 2012 caucuses. The issue played a different role in the 2008 caucuses. In the summer of 2007, immigration reform became a hot topic as the Congress took up the issue. The Republican frontrunner at the time, Arizona Senator John McCain, supported a compromise proposal.

There were a number of factors that caused McCain to shake up his presidential campaign, chief among them was poor fundraising performance, but McCain’s support of immigration reform and how unpopular it was in Iowa at the time, led him to let go of most of his Iowa campaign staff and instead focus on New Hampshire.

This current polling data suggests that, over time, Iowa Republicans have become more open to supporting a number of steps that would address the country’s illegal immigration problem. The only caveat about the current opinions of Iowa caucuses goers on the subject is that, if the Republican controlled Congress chooses to take up the cause, it would instantly be on more people’s radar. For now, the polling from April shows that more people care about taxes, government spending, foreign policy, national security, and jobs and the economy. In the shadow of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage and Obamacare subsidies, it’s safe to assume that immigration policy is currently on the back burner, and it could stay that way for a while.

Even with a vast field of Republican presidential candidates, most of the candidates have seemed pretty measured when discussing the topic. As we have seen in previous caucuses campaigns, the candidates themselves will elevate certain issues. In 2008, Mitt Romney staked out a very conservative position on immigration, which he used to campaign against McCain. In 2012, Michele Bachmann took a hardline approach on immigration and used it to contrast herself to Texas Governor Rick Perry in late summer and fall of 2011.

Thus far, we have seen candidates scramble to get to the right of their opponents on social issues, not immigration. Part of the reason for that is caucus politics, but the other reason is that there are not many 2016 presidential candidates who have a resume that would allow them to use the issue to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The way things look today, the immigration issue might play out like it did in the last caucuses. Some candidate will surely attempt to leverage it, but ultimately the issue might not be a top issue in the presidential race.

Cruz’s Crowds Are Nothing Special

TEDCTexas Senator Ted Cruz wrapped up his first swing through Iowa as an official presidential candidate on Thursday. There is no other way to describe Cruz’s trip than as a success, but a few Iowans may be guilty of taking things a little too far.

On Thursday, Steve Deace, a nationally syndicated radio host and contributor to a number of conservative publications tweeted, “I have never seen a candidate drawing the crowds in Iowa the size of Ted Cruz this early”

On Friday, Deace tweeted, “Spoke to a grizzled veteran of Iowa Caucus politics who told me he’s never seen early crowds and energy like he just saw for Ted Cruz.” Whoever the “grizzled” caucus veteran may be, he isn’t alone. I’ve seen and heard the same thing on social media sites.

Cruz and his campaign should be ecstatic about how well the launch of his presidential campaign has gone and the interest he has received around Iowa. All that said, we have seen candidates draw Cruz-like crowds in Iowa before. All this talk about how Cruz is drawing these unusually large crowds simply isn’t accurate. In fact we see crowds like this in Iowa every cycle.

Dr. Ben Carson packed people into a Polk County GOP fundraiser in the fall of 2014. Carson’s problem isn’t a lack of interest in Iowa, it’s a lack of time spent in the state.

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In 2011, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann routinely had large crowds when she began campaigning in the state. Bachmann is the classic reminder that it’s not how you begin a race, it’s how you finish.

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If you wanted to see some good crowds in the 2012 caucus race, look no further than Newt Gingrich. I remember catching up him in May of 2011 at the Olde Main Brewing in Ames. The place was packed. Even though Gingrich would falter out of the gate, in the fall of 2011, he was packing them in again. Gingrich’s problem is that he never devoted himself to holding his own events across the state. Had he done that, I think he would have won the caucuses.


Former Texas Governor Rick Perry also knew how to attract large and enthusiastic crowd in Iowa. The Polk County GOP picnic in 2011 was swimming with people on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

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In 2007, it was Mitt Romney drawing large crowds early on. I remember attending an early campaign stop of his in Cedar Falls. At 9 a.m. in the morning, Romney backed the basement of Beck’s Sport’s Brewery.

Later on in 2007, Rudy Giuliani would hold a campaign event in the gym at Valley High in Des Moines. There were probably more people at that event in 2007 than there were at all of Ted Cruz’s events in Iowa last week combined.

Now if you really want to know what enthusiasm looks like, go back to George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. As a former staffer to Steve Forbes, I would cringe when I saw the big crowds he was drawing. Forbes was no slouch, but Bush was a rock star.

So next time you hear someone say that they have NEVER seen crowds like the ones Texas Senator Ted Cruz is getting, look them in the eye and tell them they need to get out more. When candidates like Cruz come to Iowa in the midst of a lot of media speculation, it’s like the circus is coming to town. This is especially the case outside of Des Moines. A candidate visit is an event, and even if you already have a preference for a particular candidate, many people still feel the need to go see what all the talk is about.

Caucus history also seems to indicate that initial crowd size doesn’t really mean all that much. The last two-caucus winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, struggled to attract crowds in the early days of their campaigns. I bet if you asked Cruz whether he would rather be like Mike Huckabee or Michele Bachmann, I’m pretty sure he would take Huckabee any day.


Photos by Dave Davidson

Santorum’s Advantage – The Road Less Traveled

Santorum IFSRick Santorum’s speech at Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit got lost in the mix. The other speeches that were either delivered by new faces or featured clever one-liners that were tailor-made for that specific audience got all the attention.

The decision to essentially give a policy speech that intertwined his views on immigration and revitalizing the middle class in America may be one that Santorum regrets after seeing the all the news coverage others received at the event.

Businessman Donald Trump grabbed headlines for his curt critique of former governors Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.  Scott Walker received rave reviews for delivering an impassioned speech about his accomplishments as Governor of Wisconsin.  Surprisingly, Walker didn’t even mention the issue of illegal immigration.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who’s tenure in the U.S. Senate is as lengthy as Barak Obama’s was when he ran for president, fired up the crowd by saying that he’s the true conservative who is fighting all the right battles, but his speech was devoid of any mention of tangible accomplishments because frankly there have not been any.  And lets not forget former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who stole the show in a bad way on Saturday, with a disjointed rift that felt like it would never come to an end.

By the end of the Iowa Freedom Summit, I concluded that it was all the fresh faces considering a run for president for the first time that were generating all the buzz.  That’s problematic for candidates who have run for president before, but especially so for the two past victors of the Iowa Caucuses, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

The Iowa Freedom Summit showcased a difficult conundrum that repeat candidates often face. By winning the caucuses before, one has incredibly high expectations, but on the other hand, everyone has seen and heard you before.  There is nothing new, and thus building excitement around your new campaign is a difficult task.

While Walker, Cruz, and Carly Fiorina were the big winners on Saturday, it’s also important to remember that whoever delivers the best speech at a multi-candidate event like the Iowa Freedom Summit does not win the Iowa Caucuses.  The caucuses are not won based on who performs the best debates either.    The Iowa’s caucuses are typically won based on who runs the best campaign in the state, or who connects the best with Iowa caucus goers.

If one were to judge Santorum’s latest Iowa trip by evaluating just his speech on Saturday, I think it would be fair to suggest that the magic is gone.  However, in classic Santorum style, the former Pennsylvania Senator did a lot more than just pop in to the state for a quick speech.  Santorum hit three of the state’s largest media markets on a five-day swing through the state.

Santorum visited Sioux City, where he was a featured speaker for a pro-life event. He went on to Davenport and then Des Moines, where he was the lone Republican hopeful to speak at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, but he also made stops in towns like Aurelia (pop. 1063), Logan (pop. 1542), and Williamsburg (pop. 3068).  Those are communities that many presidential candidates rarely visit, and if they do, it’s not a stop that they will get to early in a campaign.  So while Santorum may be at a disadvantage when speaking in the midst of a lot of new and exciting faces, his willingness to take the time to meet people in the state’s smaller communities indicates that his 2012 Iowa victory didn’t go to his head.

Santorum’s strength in the 2012 caucuses was largely based in the rural parts of the state because he was the only candidate who took the time to really campaign in every county in the state. Mitt Romney only campaigned in the state for a handful of days, while Ron Paul stayed close to college campuses and large cities.  Newt Gingrich wasn’t disciplined enough to commit to a 99-county strategy, and Herman Cain badly misplayed Iowa.

Both Gingrich and Cain would have faired much better had they committed to traveling the state, but despite how Iowa politicians romanticize about campaigning in each of the state’s 99 counties, it’s not glamorous, and it can be a real grind.

Michele Bachmann made it to all 99 counties in the lead up to the 2012 caucuses, but it was mostly a dash and go.  Presidential campaigns need to remember this isn’t an exercise just so you can say that you did it.  To be effective, the stops actually need to be meaningful campaign events.   The goal is to connect to people who live in rural Iowa, which is something Santorum proved that he is very good at.

Santorum’s visit to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on Tuesday was just another indication that he “gets” Iowa.  Santorum lamented on the fact that none of his Republican colleagues looking to run for president in 2016.  “I think every other person who was there over the weekend was invited to come here, yet I’m the only one that’s here.”  Santorum used the opportunity to weave his support of the renewable fuels industry into his blue-collar economic message.

I talked to some attendees of Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit who were underwhelmed by Santorum’s speech.  It wasn’t that they didn’t like what he had to say, it’s that there wasn’t anything new.  Santorum many need to work on his pitch when delivering a speech on a big stage, but if there is one thing that he shouldn’t change, it’s is how he approaches Iowa.

While Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina received all the accolades on Saturday, it was Santorum who had the best trip to the state.  Sure, he invested a lot more time, but that’s an important piece of the Iowa puzzle.   Santorum won 65 counties in the 2012 caucuses. The only metropolitan area he won was Woodbury County.

Once again Rick Santorum is a big underdog, but just like four years ago, I think it would be a mistake to take him lightly in Iowa.


Photo by Dave Davidson –

Fact Check: Has the Iowa Straw Has Been an Accurate Indicator of Success?

IowaThe much-discussed Iowa Straw Poll dominated the news last week.  At it’s quarterly meeting on Saturday, the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee voted unanimously to once again hold the event in August.  The vote came a few days after a legal opinion from the Republican National Committee’s legal counsel concluded that the event did not violate any RNC rules in any way.

Over the past few months, the national media once again went out of its way to discredit the event.  The most frequent criticism was that the event is not an accurate indicator of who will win the Republican nomination or even fare well in the Iowa Caucuses.

Nobody has ever claimed that the Iowa Straw Poll was an indicator of who will win the Republican nomination.  Heck, not even the caucuses are known for doing that.  What the Straw Poll and the caucuses have done so well over their history is winnow the field of candidates.   This allows the other early states to choose from a much narrower field of candidates, and that’s not a bad thing.  In fact, with fewer debates as a result of new RNC rules, the media and voters alike will be clamoring for something to help narrow what could be a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.

Even though Michele Bachmann flamed out after winning the Straw Poll in 2011, it’s not fair to suggest that the event doesn’t give us a glimpse of what to expect in the caucuses.  If you take out Bachmann and Phil Gramm’s first place finishes in 2011 and 1995 respectively, the Straw Poll has actually been a solid indicator of what’s going on in Iowa in advance of the caucuses.

The media seems to think that the only way for the Straw Poll to be legitimate is if the winner of the event goes on to win the caucuses.  The truth is that, in the six Straw Polls that have been conducted over the years, the candidates who finished first and second in Ames finished first or second in the caucuses four times.

Phil Gramm’s implosion in 1995 was a result of the fact that he got beat by Pat Buchannan in the Louisiana caucuses that occurred before the Iowa caucuses that year.  The loss killed Gramm’s chances in Iowa.  Pat Buchannan, who finished third in Ames in 1995, beat Gramm in the Louisiana caucuses and finished second in Iowa. I would say that from 1979 through 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll has been extremely accurate in predicting a candidate’s Iowa success.  It’s not the Straw Poll’s fault that Gramm made a poor decision in playing in Louisiana.

So what about 2011?  First, the last two Straw Polls have seen the national frontrunners not participate, which is one of the big problems the Iowa GOP must fix.  Second, the field of candidates in the past two presidential election cycles has remained turbulent until after the Straw Poll.  Fred Thompson jumped into the race after the 2007 Straw Poll, and Texas Governor Rick Perry jumped into the race on the same day as the 2011 Straw Poll.  Every time a formidable candidate either drops out or joins the race, it’s going to shake things up.

What about Bachmann?  Bachmann’s first place finish in Ames and her sixth place finish in the caucuses is also problematic for the Iowa GOP.  Bachmann treated Ames just like it was an actual primary.  Forget the fact that she had a huge tent, country music acts, and state fair food because that stuff doesn’t tell you how she won.  The Bachmann campaign spent a ton of money on direct mail, telemarketing, and radio and TV ads all in an effort to boost turnout for Ames.

The Bachmann plan worked because her competition in Ames was rather weak.  Tim Pawlenty provided the most serious challenge to Bachmann in Iowa at the time.  Not only did Bachmann kill him in a Fox News debate just days before the Straw Poll, but everyone and their brother knew that Pawlenty’s campaign was in serious trouble.  It’s hard to believe now, but Michele Bachmann was running the most legitimate campaign in Iowa in August of 2011.

Bachmann’s demise in Iowa occurred because after the event, she turned into a diva, which was on full display in Waterloo the day after the Straw Poll.  The fact that Bachmann exhausted all of her resources in Ames combined with her repeated gaffes that fall explains why the campaign’s fundraising dried up.  The Bachmann campaign was counting on a huge bounce out of Ames, not in just polling, but in her grassroots organization and fundraising.  Instead of a bounce, it was a thud.  It also didn’t help that Bachmann’s Iowa Campaign Chairman, publicly quit her campaign right before the caucuses.  Like her campaign, the ordeal with Kent Sorenson turned into a soap opera.

Even with Bachmann’s demise after August, the 2011 Straw Poll showed that Ron Paul was a legitimate candidate in Iowa.  Paul finished second in Ames. People never acknowledge how significant his showing was that day because the focus has always been on Bachmann.  I bet most Iowans wouldn’t believe that Ron Paul received more votes in the 2011 Straw Poll than Romney garnered in Ames four years earlier.  Paul finished third in the caucuses, but with an impressive 21 percent of the vote.  Paul’s finish was not a surprise on caucus night because we saw his strength in Ames.  The surprise was Santorum, the 4th place finisher in Ames, who caught fire in the final weeks before the caucuses.

The Iowa Straw Poll has its downside, but the argument that it is not an early indicator of a candidate’s success in Iowa is just wrong.  In 1999, the Straw Poll was a contest between George W. Bush and Steve Forbes, a precursor to the caucuses that would follow.  In 2007, Straw Poll was a battle between Romney and Huckabee.  The same two candidates battled it out for the caucuses.

Bachmann’s demise shouldn’t diminish the storied history of the Iowa Straw Poll.  Even if the national frontrunner avoids the event in 2016, the event will once again provide us an indication as to who are the real contenders in Iowa and who are simply pretenders.

One final thought.  Perhaps the best salesperson for the Iowa Straw Poll is it’s most famous victor, President George W. Bush.  He is what he had to say about the event.

Two months ago, when my Iowa supporters convinced me to participate in this straw poll, some pundits said I had nothing to gain and potentially a lot to lose.  Well thanks to you, we gained a lot.  We have accomplished what we set out to do.  We jump-started our grassroots organization for the main event, the Iowa caucuses.  Today was also a great day for the Republican Party of Iowa.  There is a new energy in this state, there is a new enthusiasm in this state.  And this new energy will help Republicans take back the White House in the year 2000.

The winner today was not just George W. Bush.  It was the Republican Party and our great ideas.  It was the democratic process.  This is a great festival of democracy that we participated in today.  I want you to know this is just the beginning.  I have a lot of work to do.  But the victory in Iowa put me on the road to earning the nomination of the Republican Party.

George W. Bush
August 14, 1999


Zaun’s Poor Fundraising Performance Shakes Up Third District Race

The campaign finance disclosures for the Republican candidates in the Third Congressional District are all in, and as I expected, the results tell us a lot about where the race stands today.

Brad Zaun, the perceived frontrunner after having won a contested primary in a congressional district that included Polk County, posted a disappointing number.  Zaun’s underwhelming fundraising numbers combined with a quickly approaching primary day on June 3rd, basically mean the race is wide open.  Zaun will remain a factor in the race, but three candidates, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Robert Cramer, and Monte Shaw have all shown that they are aggressively campaigning for the Republican nomination.

How the candidates stack up with total dollars raised:

1. Robert Cramer: $212,653.00
2. Monte Shaw: $203,937.09
3. Matt Schultz: $170,949.57
4. David Young: $77,991.29
5. Brad Zaun: $56,746.00

While the fundraising numbers and expenditure reports provide us with an idea of how active each of the campaigns has been in the first three months of the year, one also can’t overlook the importance that name I.D. and geography will play in the race.  While Brad Zaun’s fundraising numbers are anemic, he’s still the best known candidate in the race, and his deep Polk County roots will still give him a boost on election day.

Secretary of State Matt Schultz is the second best-known candidate.  Having held statewide public office for the past three years, he has improved his name ID, and his public fight for a voter I.D. law has made him a favorite among Republican activists.  Robert Cramer and Monte Shaw are lesser known, but they are running impressive campaigns that are attempting to correct that problem by running radio and TV ads.

The fifth candidate, David Young, has not seen his fortunes change since ending his U.S. Senate campaign and running for congress in the Third District.  Young’s cash on hand number is solid, but his fundraising has slowed and a large portion of the money he has available came as a personal loan.

Below is a breakdown of the fundraising efforts of each of the five candidates in the race.  We begin with Zaun because it is his report that has changed the tenor of the campaign.

Brad Zaun

State Senator Brad Zaun proved that he was a formidable congressional candidate in the 2010 Republican primary in the Third Congressional District.  Despite being outspent in a four-way Republican primary, Zaun cruised to victory largely on his strong name I.D. and reputation in Polk County.  Even though Zaun’s losing performance in the 2010 general election has taken some of the wind out of his sails for his 2014 race, Zaun’s name I.D. and Polk County roots still make him the man to beat in the Republican primary this June.

The fact that Zaun’s presence in the 2014 Third District race didn’t scare anyone away from seeking the Republican nomination tells you something about how Zaun is being perceived this time around, but his initial fundraising numbers also indicate that he’s not the same candidate he was back in 2010.

In the first quarter of 2014, Zaun’s campaign raised just $56,746, significantly less than all of his his primary opponents.  In his initial fundraising report for his 2010 run for congress, Zaun raised just $30,600, but he raised all of that in less than one month, and it was in December, which is a difficult month to raise money for a campaign.

While Zaun’s fundraising is concerning, so too is the lack of activity on his campaign.  Zaun’s fundraising report showed only three expenditures – two to a wedding planner in Nashville, Tennessee who is raising money for his campaign, and the other to Ryan Keller, his campaign manager.

It’s somewhat unbelievable that Zaun would only have expenditures to two entities in a campaign that started two months ago.  Further more, Zaun’s campaign released an impressive web video, which was filmed at his campaign announcement.  There was an entire film crew at Zaun’s campaign announcement, yet nowhere in Zaun’s report is there an expenditure or in-kind contribution for their services. Zaun’s report also shows that his campaign doesn’t have any outstanding debt.  Something doesn’t add up.

Of all the candidates in the race, Zaun is the most known, and his 2010 campaign should have provided him with an existing donor file that he could solicit for his 2014 campaign.   Initially, I thought Zaun’s fundraising number was low because he paid off his $22,000 in debts from his 2010 campaign.  However, Zaun wasn’t being truthful when he told in early February that he had paid off his 2010 debts.  Zaun also must file fundraising reports from his 2010 campaign, which show no fundraising activity and no effort to repay his debts.

Update: Zaun’s campaign has filed a new disclosure that shows that all of his previous campaign debt has been forgiven.  Zaun’s 2010 campaign committee has now been terminated.

Zaun’s underwhelming fundraising effort means that the Republican primary in Iowa’s Third District is wide open.  Had Zaun been competitive in the fundraising race, it would have been his race to lose.  Not only did he underperform, but his weak fundraising numbers give candidates like Cramer, Schultz, and Shaw more legitimacy with donors and voters.

Robert Cramer

In the crowded Third District Republican primary, Robert Cramer is the only candidate thus far who has run television and radio ads.  Cramer is also the candidate who has sent out the most persuasion mail.  While it would be incorrect to label Cramer as the frontrunner in the race, his campaign is firing on all cylinders and is off to an impressive start.

Cramer’s campaign raised $167,653 in the first quarter of the year, and he loaned his campaign an additional $45,000.  In total, Cramer’s campaign brought in over $212,000.  It’s an impressive number, but not all that much different from Monte Shaw who raised just over $203,000 or Secretary of State Matt Schultz who raised $170,000.

Most of the money Cramer raised is from the construction industry.  Cramer, the owner of a bridge building company in Des Moines, is the former president of the Iowa Associated General Contractors.  Cramer was also able to raise money from influential social conservatives like Bob Vander Plaats, who gave Cramer’s campaign a contribution for $2,600.  Cramer is the former Chairman of the Board of Vander Plaats’ pro-family group, The FAMiLY Leader.  Despite the close connection between the two men, Vander Plaats is listed in Cramer’s report as “Robert Plaats.”

Cramer’s campaign has the appearance of being a formidable campaign, but his first financial report does include a couple red flags.  Cramer’s cash on hand number on April 1st was $78,736.32, which is significantly less than Schultz and Shaw.  Cramer’s cash on hand number is irrelevant if he is willing to self-fund a portion of his campaign, but only time will tell how much of his own money he is actually willing to commit to the race.

Thus far, Cramer has loaned his campaign $45,000 – including $10,000 back on January 30th, and an additional $35,000 in late March.  The way Cramer is helping fund his campaign is a lot different than how Mark Jacobs is funding his U.S. Senate campaign.  According to his year-end financial disclosure, Jacobs has loaned his campaign $200,000, but given it an additional $321,000.

Personal money can make a big difference in a campaign.  Cramer seems to have given a little money to his campaign to get things started and then added some more to help cover his television buy.  That gives him an advantage over his competitors, but unless Cramer is willing to put substantially more money into the race, most of the Republican Third District campaigns are going to be on equal footing when it comes to money.  Cramer has increased his presence on TV in April, which seems to indicate that he is continuing to fundraise or is willing to put more of his own money into his campaign.

Cramer doesn’t come into the race with the same level of name I.D. as State Senator Brad Zaun or Schultz, meaning that he will need to spend significantly more than both of those individuals in order to neutralize their advantage.

Monte Shaw

If there is a candidate in the Third District race that’s ecstatic about his fundraising performance, it’s Monte Shaw.  Shaw raised an impressive $203,937.09, all of which can be used in the primary campaign.  Shaw also reported having $168,445.64 cash on hand.  That’s over $50,000 more than Schultz has in primary cash, and $90,000 more than Cramer.  That’s a significant advantage since the primary is now about six weeks away.  The only caveat is that Cramer has been loaning his campaign money, so Shaw might not have as big of a primary money advantage as he thinks he does.

As was expected, Shaw raised a significant amount of money from the renewable fuels industry.  Shaw raised over $38,000 from various ethanol industry political action committees.  Shaw is the Executive Director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and thus he has a pre-existing relationship with members of this industry.  Shaw’s fundraising haul is impressive considering that he’s never run for office before, but it’s clear that his involvement in political campaigns has been an asset to his congressional campaign.

While Shaw’s initial fundraising haul is impressive, he’s going to need to spend every dollar he raised and more to become better known to voters in the district.  Shaw’s involvement with the Renewable Fuels Association and the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee has made him known to key players in both organizations.  However, in order for him to be successful in the Third District primary, he’s needs to become better known to Republican primary voters, a significant percentage of which are not involved in Republican party county organizations or the renewable fuels industry.

Shaw has already begun running radio ads across the district, and it probably won’t be long until he launches his first TV ad.  Like Cramer, Shaw needs to become better known quickly.  Cramer has been running TV ads for weeks already, and Schultz just unveiled a TV ad of his own.  Shaw needs to join the fray soon.

Matt Schultz

Matt Schultz surprised a lot of people when he defeated an incumbent Secretary of State with a limited budget in 2010.  Now the 34 year-old Schultz has his eye on the Third District Congressional seat being vacated by Congressman Tom Latham.  Schultz is no longer an underdog, but he’s not necessarily the frontrunner either.  While Brad Zaun is the most known candidate in the race, Schultz’ time as Secretary of State has increased is name I.D. and brand, especially with conservative activists.

Schultz raised $170,949.57 in the first quarter of 2014, and on April 1st had $136,645.31 cash on hand.  Schultz can use almost all of that money in the primary. Of the $170,000 that Schultz raised, only $20,200 of it is restricted for use in the general election.  That means Schultz has $116,445.31 available to spend in the primary.

Schultz’s campaign disclosure also indicates that he’s getting some outside support from influential outside groups.  For example, the Senate Conservatives Fund has solicited its donors on Schultz’s behalf, which raised him $12,799.00.  The group also made a $5000 contribution to the campaign and spent nearly $11,000 on an independent expenditure supporting Schultz.

This isn’t the first time a third party group has gotten involved in a congressional primary in Iowa.  In 2002, the Club for Growth played a major role in the Republican primary in an effort to help Steve King win his crowded primary.  The Club for Growth spent a lot of money on that race, and we will have to wait and see if the Senate Conservative Fund is going to be a major player in Schultz’s race.  Still, getting that kind of third party support early in this race is a luxury that none of Schultz opponents have.

With Zaun’s poor fundraising numbers, Schultz finds himself well positioned in the Third District race.  Still, with Cramer and Shaw running impressive campaigns and showing the ability to raise or invest significant funds into their campaigns, it’s imperative for Schultz to keep pace when it comes to fundraising.

David Young

David Young opted to end his campaign for the U.S. Senate at the end of 2013 and instead decided to run for the Republican nomination in the Third Congressional District.  Unfortunately for Young, the congressional race hasn’t been any easier for him.

In the first quarter of 2014, Young’s campaign raised just $77,991.29.  His campaign has a decent cash on hand number of $132,845, but Young’s campaign also has debts and obligations of $70,755.95, $50,000 of which was a loan from the candidate on December 30th of last year.  When you subtract Young’s debt and obligations from his cash on hand number, that gives him only $62,090 to spend between now and primary day.  Young could spend the entire $132,000, but with his prospects in the primary not looking too bright, it’s hard to see him actually incurring personal debt from his campaign.

Young’s initial fundraising in his U.S. Senate campaign was solid, but as the race has gone on, it’s easy to see that he has exhausted his network of donors.  This often happens to a candidate who doesn’t catch on in a primary.  Young is a good guy, and people genuinely like him, but 2014 doesn’t seem like it’s his year.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

Winners and Losers: Sorenson Ordeal

As is the case with everything in politics, there are winner and losers.  There really are not any winners in the Sorenson saga, but there are people who did the right thing.  Below is a list of winners and losers.  Obviously Sorenson and his attorney find themselves in the later category, but there are a number of people who did the right things who deserve to be acknowledged.  Likewise, there are some positive things that will come from all of this.


Senate Ethics Committee:  The investigation into Kent Sorenson’s improper financial dealings with two presidential campaigns showed that the Senate Ethics Committee can be very serious should the members choose to investigate the wrongdoing of a fellow member.  This is a very good thing.

While there are plenty of people who disagree with the particular rule that Sorenson knowingly violated, it’s still as rule that is supposed to be followed and taken seriously.  Sorenson blatantly tried to circumvent the rule, and when he got caught, he challenged the committee to prove up the allegations against him.  Well, with the help of Sorenson’s tax and bank records, the committee easily did just that.  Members of the Iowa Senate will likely think twice before thumbing their nose at the rules of the chamber in the future.

Sen. Sandy Greiner:  Greiner was the lone Republican on the Senate Ethics Committee to vote in favor of launching an investigation into Sorenson’s activities.  There were plenty of forces inside the Republican Senate caucus who just wanted the whole ordeal to go away, and the easiest way to do that is to have all three Republicans on the committee to vote against moving forward with a formal investigation.

Greiner’s Republican colleagues on the committee, Sen. Jerry Behn and Sen. Jack Whitver, were both critical of the committee’s decision to have the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court appoint a special investigator to look into the ordeal.  Whitver said that the committee had set an “impossible standard” and opened the door for future “frivolous” charges.  Behn called the original complaint against Sorenson “hearsay,” saying that there was no real evidence that Sorenson had done anything wrong.

We now know that there was a mountain of evidence that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sorenson had broken Senate ethics rules, but Sorenson was not about own up to any wrongdoing.  Sorenson went out of his way to deceive the committee, and it almost worked.  Had it not been for Greiner’s vote, we would have never gotten to the bottom of this mess.

Mark Weinhardt: There is only one word to describe the work that Weinhardt did looking into Sorenson’s alleged rule violations – thorough.  Before Weinhardt was involved, the Ethics Committee only had Sorenson’s accuser’s allegations and Sorenson’s denials to go off of.  Weinhardt’s ability to get Sorenson’s bank and tax records helped validate the claims against Sorenson.

Chelgren/Whitver/Zaun: When published a number of articles that provided details about Sorenson’s dealings with Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign, this trio of Republican senators didn’t mince words when publically asked about the developing scandal.  While Republican leadership in the Senate was quiet, these three each said that Sorenson should resign if the information was true.  Again, it’s never easy to critique a colleague in public, but these three were willing to do so.

The Iowa Caucuses:  Sorenson’s behavior during and after the 2012 caucuses did not paint the caucuses in a favorable light.  While some would have preferred to simply sweep everything under the rug, it is important for Iowans to police themselves.  The charges against Sorenson were serious, and so was the investigation looking into his activity.  We got to the bottom of the mess, which should help prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.


Kent Sorenson:  There is no doubt that Sorenson himself if the biggest loser in all of this.  Not only did it cause him to resign his office, but it could also potentially cost him his real estate license.  Worse yet, Sorenson could also face additional criminal charges.

Violating the Senate’s ethics rules got Sorenson in trouble, but his lying and attempts to mislead his Senate colleagues is what is really troubling.  Sorenson was aggressively courted at the outset of the 2012 presidential contest in Iowa.  Now he’s going to be avoided like a plague, and he only has himself to blame.

Bachmann and Paul:  They say it takes two to tango, and had these two campaigns not conspired with Sorenson, none of this would have happened.  Presidential campaigns are heavily scrutinized, and rightfully so.  Not only is it important for them to hire competent individuals, but they also need to be ethical.  Bachmann’s and Paul’s campaign failed to do that.

Des Moines Register:  For the most part, the Des Moines Register was asleep at the switch on a major scandal that took down a State Senator and could still have national implications.  Their coverage following the special investigators report has been much better, but they were on the sidelines when the scandal was developing.

Ted Sporer:  I don’t know if Sorenson could have had a worse attorney than Sporer.  It always seemed as though both Sporer and Sorenson were shooting from the hip and never had a legal strategy.  One day, Sorenson denied having been given a check from Ron Paul’s national deputy campaign manager, and the next day Sporer is in the paper contradicting his client and saying that Sorenson did have a check, but never he cashed it.  Worse yet, Sporer has legal troubles of his own.  Bleeding Heartland posted a recent Polk County case in which a judge found that Sporer had “fabricated evidence” and “lied under oath” to help a client.

Neither a Winner or Loser:

Sen. Bill Dix:  Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix was silent for weeks during the Sorenson scandal.  Yes, Dix was in a difficult spot, but that’s one of prices of being in leadership.  Dix’s silence looked bad, but once the special investigator’s report came out, Dix called for Sorenson’s immediate resignation.  Finally, a good move on his part.


Photo by Gage Skidmore

Special Investigator Reveals Mountain of Evidence Against Sorenson

The special investigator looking into the allegations that Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson improperly took money from two different presidential campaigns in 2012 submitted his findings to the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee this week.  Just hours after Mark Weinhard’s 556-page report was made public, Sorenson resigned his State Senate seat.

Despite Sorenson’s repeated denials of any wrongdoing, Weinhardt’s report systematically proves that the allegations that Sorenson had been compensated by both the Bachmann and Paul campaigns had merit.  The report also shows that Sorenson knowingly lied or mislead the press, the public and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee throughout the entire ordeal.

Allegation: Sorenson was paid $7,500 per month from Michele Bachmann to be her Iowa campaign manager.

Sorenson’s formal response to original Senate ethics complaint: Once again these allegations are not based on facts.  I did not receive compensation from MichelePAC, Bachmann for President, or C&M Strategies

Weinhardt’s findings:

Weinhardt’s report shows that both Andy Parrish, Bachmann’s first campaign manager, and David Polyansky, a Bachmann consultant, not only knew of Sorenson’s arrangement with C&M Industries, but also sought approval from the campaign’s attorneys.  Parrish allowed Guy Short, of C&M Strategies to negotiate Sorenson’s monthly compensation.  The two settled on $7,500 a month.

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 8.38.55 PMWhen Polyansky formalized the campaign’s contract with Short, Polyansky was made aware of Sorenson’s relationship with C&M Strategies.  “Under the preexisting contract, the Bachmann campaign needed to pay Mr. Short’s firm additional money to supply compensation that was being paid to Sorenson from the Bachmann campaign.”

In an email between Short and Polyansky, Short writes, “Bill needs to get you a contract for C&M Strategies for $22,500 per month to cover me and my employee.”  Short’s firm was to be paid $15,000 per month, and the additional $7,500 was for Sorenson.  After consulting with the campaign’s attorney, Polyansky had the larger sum inserted into the campaign’s contract with Short’s firm.

Weinhardt’s report then uses a graphic to show how the money flowed from MichelePAC or Bachmann for President to C&M Strategies, then to Sorenson’s Grass Roots Strategy, Inc, then finally to Sorenson and his wife personally.   The report also includes all of the deposits made to from the Bachmann entities to C&M Strategies, and all of the corresponding deposits from C&M to Sorenson’s Grass Roots Strategies firm.

The report also includes an email from Sorenson to Polyansky on July 5, 2011, that clearly shows Sorenson was aware that his compensation from the Bachmann campaign was in violation of the Senate Ethics Rule 6.

Allegation: Sorenson accepted payment from Ron Paul’s national Deputy Campaign Manager Dimitri Kesari in advance of his switch from Bachmann to Paul.

Sorenson’s denial to Fox News Megyn Kelly: “I was never offered a nickel from the Ron Paul campaign.”

Weinhardt’s findings:

Sorenson received a check payable to “Grass Roots Strategies” in the amount of $25,000.  The check was dated December 26, 2011, and drawn on the account of Designer Goldsmiths Inc, which is a jewelry store located in Leesburg, Virginia operated by Jolanda Kesari, Demitri Kesari’s wife.

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 9.14.08 PMSorenson never cashed the check and showed it to the special investigator.  Demitri Kesari invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in the interview with Weinhardt.  Mrs. Kesari did not cooperate.

Weinhardt also discovered that Sorenson received $73,000 in wire transfers following the caucuses.  The payments were from ICT Inc. in Maryland.  Weinhardt stated in his report that, “The deposits could be construed to reflect payments of $8,000 per month from February through July 2012, with the first payment $33,000 being an $8,000 monthly payment and $25,000 to reflect the uncashed check.”

ICT is a business associated with a documentary filmmaker named Noel “Sonny” Izon.  When asked in his deposition what he did for ICT, Sorenson said, “general consulting both on political and business issues.” Sorenson also said that he helped ICT with “locations for video shoots in Iowa.”  He said ICT had, “a lot of clients,” but he could identify none.”  He also could not remember the correct name of the “Sonny” associated with ICT.

The case against Sorenson appears to be substantial.  Sorenson’s quick decision to resign his seat following the release of the report also signifies the creditability and thoroughness of Weinhardt’s report.  While Sorenson has resigned, he’s still claiming his innocence.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register before he resigned, Sorenson tried to compare the money that he took from the Bachmann campaign with Rick Perry renting office space from a State Senator because Perry wanted his endorsement.  Perry rented space from R&R Realty, a commercial property firm that State Senator Brad Zaun used to work for.  Unlike Sorenson, Zaun was a loyal Bachmann endorsee and never was compensated for his support.

Sorenson also mentioned that another Senator, most likely Senator Rick Bertrand, who owns an Irish Brew Pub in Sioux City, catered food for campaign workers.  “So cooking a hamburger for a campaign isn’t working but giving advice is?” Sorenson asked the Des Moines Register.

Sorenson also sent an email out to his constituents following his resignation. Even with a mountain of evidence that states otherwise, Sorenson claims that the investigation was a “straight-up political witch hunt.”  Sorenson went on to say that the investigation was retaliation for his criticism of the Iowa Supreme Court.  And that Weinhardt himself was compromised because, “The investigator’s family, according to a quick search of the Iowa Campaign Ethics and Disclosure Board, appears to only have a history of donating money to Democrat candidates. The game was rigged from the beginning.”

Sorenson’s colleague, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren disagrees.  “I do not believe that the investigator’s integrity is at question here. Only Senator Sorenson’s integrity is at question,” Chelgren told Radio Iowa this evening. “…I believe there is enough evidence that says that Senator Sorenson’s integrity has been compromised, that the decision to resign seems to be the correct one.”

Sorenson responded to Weinhardt’s report just like he responded to all the other accusations made against him throughout this entire saga.  He played the role of the victim.  The only problem is that Weinhardt has a mountain of evidence that proves otherwise.  The rules that Sorenson violated are not all that serious, but the habitual lying and misleading that he has done for the past year is incredibly disturbing.  Not only did he lie to the media and the people of Iowa, Sorenson also lied and misled his colleagues in the Senate.

All of that lying could, Weinhardt suggests, make him guilty of committing felonious misconduct in office, which is a class D felony.  That charge may also potentially jeopardize Sorenson’s real estate license.

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Iowans Deserve Answers from Sorenson

A week has passed since released new details that implicate State Senator Kent Sorenson in a pay-to-pay scandal with Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.  The series of articles, which included documents, emails, and audio of Sorenson providing an incredible amount of detail about his financial dealings with Paul’s National Deputy Campaign Manager, Dimitri Kesari, continues to make national news.

For the most part, Sorenson, has avoided press inquires.  Sorenson did however tell the Des Moines Register last Tuesday that he had no knowledge that Aaron Dorr had been negotiating financial terms with the Paul campaign’s National Campaign Manager, John Tate, and National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton, despite releasing an email that clearly shows Dorr asking Sorenson for approval of changes that were made to the October 29th memo.

Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer, told the Minnesota Star Tribune on the same day that his client did nothing improper.  “There was no money that changed hands,” Sporer said. “There was no direct or indirect payment from the Ron Paul campaign.”

An audio recording of a phone conversation between Sorenson and Dennis Fusaro that was released by on Wednesday punched holes in Sporer’s defense of Sorenson.

Screen shot 2013-08-14 at 11.27.52 PMIn fact, even Sorenson himself is at odds with his attorney.  In defending himself in a Facebook exchange last Saturday, Sorenson wrote, “I did not once cash a check or receive payment for my endorsement and I believe that when everything is looked at the evidence will be on my side.  And if you truly listen to the phone call and not commentary provided in the article it backs up my side of the story.”

Sorenson basically confirms the authenticity of the phone conversation with Fusaro.  He confirms that he and his wife had dinner with Dimitri Kesari, Paul’s National Deputy Campaign Manager before endorsing Paul.  The recording also included Sorenson saying that he refused to take a check from Kesari, but later admits that his wife took the check.

Sorenson may believe that being in possession of a check doesn’t mean that he received payment, but every employee in America thinks they get paid when they are handed their paycheck, not when they deposit it into their bank account.  Even if the check was accepted by or written out to his wife, Sorenson has spent not just the last week not being truthful about his financial dealings with the Paul campaign, but he’s been dishonest since late December 2011.

During an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on December 29, 2011, Sorenson was asked, “Was money offered to you by anyone in the Ron Paul camp to jump ship?”  Sorenson responded “Absolutely not.”  We now know that Sorenson was lying when he made that statement.  We know that Paul’s National Deputy Campaign Manager offered him money.  We know that Sorenson says he didn’t personally accept it, but his wife did.  Sorenson even said in that interview that he would be vindicated when Paul’s financial disclosures came out in a few days because it will show that no payments were made.

Of course no payment to Sorenson ever appeared in any of Paul’s disclosures with the Federal Election Commission because the check that was presented to Sorenson and accepted by his wife wasn’t from the Paul campaign.  The audio recording indicated that the check was from Kesari’s wife’s jewelry store in Leesburg, Virginia, not the Paul campaign.

Sorenson has also frequently said that he is willing to turn over his tax records to the special investigator who is investigating the matter for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. That defense only prompts more questions.  First and foremost, Sorenson needs to agree release all of his records, not just tax records, from not only himself, but also his wife and any business entity he also may have.

It’s also entirely possible that a check from a jewelry story wouldn’t be considered to be income.  Maybe the store treated it as a return of a purchase.  Maybe Sorenson never cashed the check, but instead took payment in another form, perhaps in silver or gold.  It may seem funny to speculate like that, but since Sorenson has spent the past 19 months not telling the truth, we can no longer trust what he and his lawyer say when they are responding to questions from the media.

Throughout the entire Bachmann and Paul scandals, Sorenson has consistently attempted to discredit his accusers instead of providing solid proof of his own innocence.  When Michele Bachmann told reporters that Sorenson had told her the reason he was leaving her campaign was because of he was offered a large sum of money from the Paul campaign, he said that conversation with her never took place, despite the fact that she showed her personal cell phone to reporters that indicated otherwise.

When reported that Peter Waldron had filed an Iowa Senate Ethics complaint against Sorenson for his shady dealings with the Bachmann campaign, Sorenson tried to discredit Waldron because Sorenson was told by the Secretary of the Senate that Waldron wasn’t going to leak news of proceedings to the media.  In a statement Sorenson wrote, “If it’s true that Mr. Waldron is the source of the disclosure, that already casts doubt on his credibility and thus the credibility of his complaints.”

When Andy Parrish, Bachmann’s initial national campaign manager, and her former Chief-of-Staff, came forward to substantiate Waldron’s complaint, Sorenson once again attacked the credibility of the witness.  “Andy Parish, a gentleman who was removed from the employ of the Bachmann offices due to my sharing of information with the congresswoman, is the only person to provide contrary information.”  In essence, Sorenson argues that Parrish is just a scorned former employee who is out to seek revenge on Sorenson.

Even when contacted Sorenson the night before we published the initial article about his financial dealings with the Paul campaign, Sorenson disparaged Dennis Fusaro, saying that Fusaro was scorned former employee of the National Right to Work Committee who just has an axe to grind.

Besides attempting to shoot holes in his accusers’ arguments, Sorenson has offered few answers to the complaints filed against him.  He has provided affidavits from Chris Dorr and Wes Enos, both of whom were somewhat involved in his scheme to jump ship from Bachmann to Paul.

Sorenson also provided an affidavit from a longtime friend and Bachmann staffer Tony Eastman, and Cherie Johnson, who audited Sorenson’s back account and attested that he had not deposited any money from Guy Short or C&M Strategies from December 2010 to December 2011.  The audio recording of Sorenson includes a mention of Short.  Sorenson told Fusaro that he had called Short to apologize to say that he was, “sorry” for hurting him.  It is also unclear if Ms. Johnson audited all of Sorenson’s back accounts and financial holdings, or just one bank account.

Sorenson has spent the past 19 months deflecting criticism by attacking his accusers, but its now time for him to provide some honest answers to the serious questions that have arisen in light of the new information that was made public last week.

Some Republicans, like Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker, have avoided weighing in on the Sorenson situation by saying the Senate Ethics Committee investigation should be completed before making any sort of statement one way or another.  While that investigation should continue, there is a lot more at stake here then just a violation of a rule of the Iowa Senate.

Ron Paul’s presidential campaign offered Sorenson money in return for his endorsement.  Sorenson himself doesn’t even dispute that now.  Sorenson is also emphatic in one of the audio recordings that Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s National Campaign Chairman, knew that Sorenson was offered money and that his wife accepted a check from the campaign’s National Deputy Campaign Manager.

Not only does that get Sorenson crossed up with an Iowa Senate ethics rule, but the Paul campaign is guilty of bribing Sorenson and circumventing the disclosure requirements of the Federal Election Commission by coordinating an expenditure to Sorenson through an employee’s business and instead of the campaign.

Quite frankly, Sorenson needs to come clean.  The Senate Ethics Committee is small potatoes compared to everything else that is involved in this pay-to-play scheme.  Furthermore, Iowans deserve the truth, not more lies, and not more finger pointing.  It’s time for Sorenson to step up, be a man, and take responsibility for his own actions.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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In His Own Words: Sorenson Confirms Payment for Ron Paul Endorsement has obtained a recording of a phone conversation between State Senator Kent Sorenson and Dennis Fusaro.  The call was recorded just days after Sorenson abruptly abandoned Michele Bachmann’s campaign and publicly endorsed Ron Paul.  Along with confirming the payment a representative of the Paul campaign made to Sorenson, the recorded conversation also appears to indicate that Sorenson was considering withdrawing from the Paul campaign almost immediately after announcing his support for Paul.

The recording features Sorenson explaining how the Ron Paul campaign’s Deputy National Campaign Manager, Demitri Kesari, met with Sorenson and his wife at a restaurant where, Sorenson says, his wife was presented and accepted a check while he was in the bathroom.

Fusaro asks Sorenson for the name of the jewelry store that Kesari owns with his wife, Jolanda Pali Kesari.  Sorenson says, “I honest to God don’t know.  I’ll have to look at the check and tell you.  I haven’t even seen it.”  That confession indicates that the check given to the Sorensons was from the jewelry store account.  The Kesari’s store is called Designer Goldsmiths and is located in Leesburg, Virginia.  This account of events in which Sorenson appears to be denying initial knowledge of the payment is at odds with emails previously published by, which showed that Sorenson was aware of the payments requested on his behalf from the Paul campaign.  However, Sorenson does unambiguously confirm that he had possession of a check from a Ron Paul operative.

Sorenson also confirms that Paul’s National Campaign Chairman, Jesse Benton, was aware of Kesari’s actions.  After asking Fusaro if he thought the key players inside the upper echelons of the Ron Paul campaign knew of Kesari’s actions, Fusaro stated that he was confident that Benton knew.  Sorenson quickly responds by saying, “Oh, I know Jesse knows.  I know Jesse knows.”

Benton, who is currently serving as the campaign manager for Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2014 re-election campaign, has denied that there was any sort of payoff involved in getting Sorenson to endorse Paul.  In a December 28, 2011, interview with Radio Iowa, Benton said, “We’ve always known Michele Bachmann to be an honorable person, and we think it’s a shame now that she’s trying to slander an honorable Iowan and an honorable member of the Iowa state senate.  Senator Sorenson is not being paid.”

A few days later, Congressman Paul himself told Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, that Sorenson was not paid by anyone affiliated in any way with the campaign.  Paul’s remarks were broadcast on the January 1, 2012, show.

Wallace: Congressman, we have about less than 30 seconds left. I want to ask you one final question. You and congresswoman Bachmann is about to be — got into quite a flap this week when her state chair, State Senator Kent Sorenson, jumped ship from her campaign to your campaign. She alleges he said that your campaign was paying him to jump ship.

Simple question: did your campaign or anyone connected with your campaign or anyone speaking on behalf of it or any third party vendor, did any of them offer money to Kent Sorenson to come on board your campaign?

Paul: No. And if she has the evidence, she should bring it forth. Because if she makes charges like that, she should be able defend it. But no, that did not happen.

Sorenson himself was adamant that he wasn’t paid to make the switch from Bachmann to Paul.  “I was never offered a nickel from the Ron Paul campaign,” Sorenson told The Des Moines Register.  Sorenson was emphatic during a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly that he never received or was offered any money from anyone connected with the Paul campaign.

We now know that Bachmann and the others who said that Sorenson was offered money to join the Paul campaign were not lying.

Sorenson’s phone call with Fasaro also seems to suggest that Bachmann’s National Political Director, Guy Short, did in fact inappropriately pay Sorenson.  In the recording, Fusaro asks if Sorenson had been talking to “Guy.”  Sorenson responds by saying, “No. No, I spoke to him once since this happened, and I told him, I just told him that I was sorry I hurt him, and someday I hope we can have a friendship again.  That was it.”

Below is the transcript of the call, as well as the audio file provided to by Fusaro.

Fusaro: Hello?

Sorenson: Hey.

Fusaro: Hey, what’s going on man?

Sorenson: Nothing, just living life.

Furaro: So.

Sorenson: How about you?

Fusaro: Well, I’m trying to figure out how to keep living life, too, but I’m hearing that you’re about to fall on a grenade here any second.

Sorenson: I’ve been thinking about it, but, uh, you know. You know, I’m out here, and Aaron [Dorr] is trying to talk me out of it, and I think he’s probably right.  I don’t want to hurt my friends, you know what I mean?

Fusaro: Yeah.  Well, I think you just need to stop talking and get yourself an attorney and figure out what your position is.

Sorenson: Yeah.

Fusaro: I don’t know how all this, I’m not advising you to do one thing or another other than just do what’s right, but I don’t know exactly what that is.

Sorenson: Yeah.

Fusaro: Are you talking to Guy [Short] again?

[Guy Short is the Bachmann consultant who allegedly improperly paid Sorenson through his political consulting firm, C&M Strategies.  Former Bachmann chief-of-staff Andy Parrish swore in an affidavit that Sorenson was being paid by C&M Strategies for his work on the Bachmann presidential campaign.]

Sorenson: No. No, I spoke to him once since this happened, and I told him, I just told him that I was sorry I hurt him, and someday I hope we can have a friendship again.  That was it.

Fusaro: Yeah, so…

Sorenson: I don’t trust him.

Fusaro:  You don’t trust him?  Well, why should you?

Sorenson: Yeah, I know.

Fusaro:  I’m just trying to figure out why Demitri Kesari gets off scotfree and gets to do all this crap, and nobody lays a glove on him.

Sorenson: Yeah.

Fusaro: So, I guess you can give him, well I hope, well I don’t know.

Sorenson: I’m going to give him his check back.

Fusaro: Oh, you are?

Sorenson: Do you think I should, or should I hold on to it?   I’m not cashing it.

Fusaro:  I understand.

Sorenson: Do you think I should hold on to it or do a deal?  Should I hold on to it so I have something over him?

Fusaro:  I don’t think I’d give it to him, no.

Sorenson: Okay.

Fusaro: Have you, I don’t presume you have been paid by them [the Paul campaign – other than the initial check from Kesari].  Sounds to me like you are not going to be working with them after this.  I’m confused.  I mean, if you are not doing his bidding, he’s not going to pay you.

Sorenson: No, I agree with you.

Fusaro: I understand that Ron Paul came out and said that nobody gave you… The lying that’s going on is just incredible.  It’s one thing to be smart politically and tough, but now you have Ron Paul out there lying.

Sorenson: You think he knows?

Fusaro: No, actually, I think he doesn’t.

Sorenson: You think they purposefully kept it from him?

Fusaro: Oh sure, it’s like Rothfeld said, they have to run their campaign.  He has to run his.

[Michael Rothfield is on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gun Rights and also the sole director of Saber Communications. reported that both Rand Paul and Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign are clients. The firm received $7.7 million for Paul’s 2012 campaign.]

Sorenson: Who do you think knows?

Fusaro: All these guys are corrupt. Who do I think knows? Everyone you told.  Everyone Dimitri told.  And Dimitri.

Sorenson: Do you think the whole Ron Paul, like all of them know?  I mean the inside group?

Fusaro: Sure, I’m sure Jesse Benton knows, he’s a scum…

Sorenson: Oh, I know that Jesse knows. I know Jesse knows.

Fusaro: He’s a scumbag.


Fusaro: By the way, just for my edification, is the name of Dimitri’s store, is it Market Station Jewelers?

Sorenson: I honest to God don’t know.  I’ll have to look at the check and tell you.  I haven’t even seen it.

[The store is actually called Designer Goldsmiths, it is located in the Market Station in Leesburg, VA.]

Fusaro: I don’t know.

Sorenson: My wife, he gave it to my wife.  Did I tell you what happened?

Fusaro: No.

Sorenson: I kept saying no, and my wife said we can do this.  I went to the bathroom, we were in a restaurant, and he made it out to my wife.

Fusaro: Oh great.  So he worked his [sic] wife against you.  He went around your authority and worked your wife.  And this is the great Christian conservative political activist we are all supposed to kiss his http://goes%20blank.

[Pause in audio]

Sorenson: I don’t want anyone to know that, okay, because I don’t get in it with my wife, okay?

Fusaro: My point would be, you better, I don’t know.  I think you need to sit down with an attorney and say here is what I’ve done, where am I, what do I do?  He’ll probably tell you to SHUT UP.

Sorenson: I have.  I’ve learned my lesson.

Fusaro: I mean, that piece by Kevin Hill [Hall] on The Iowa Republican was pretty damaging.

Sorenson: Yeah.

Fusaro: It has nothing to do with the Iowa state ethics laws.

Sorenson: Let me call you right back, I just had someone walk up to me, okay?

Fusaro: Alright, bye.

Sorenson: Bye

[Pause in audio]

Sorenson: I just had a guy yell at me.

Fusaro: He doesn’t like Ron Paul?

Sorenson: This guy was douchebag, said, “Boy, you caused quite a controversy.”  I said, “Yeah, it’s quite a shit storm, isn’t it?”

Fusaro: Yep.  So, I mean, I guess you’re just not going to work for anybody?

Sorenson: You know, Dennis, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.  And I have got to quit talking to people because every time I talk to somebody, they talk to somebody, and it comes back to bite me in the butt.

Fusaro: Yeah, you’ve got that right.

Sorenson: Aaron’s freaking out because I quit, and I could hurt him and his groups.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Fusaro: Alright, I’ll leave it alone.  Do what you got to do.

On Tuesday night, Sorenson defended himself on a Facebook discussion about article that was published earlier in the day.  Sorenson wrote:

“I am looking forward to turning my tax statements over to the senate investigator if and when he ask for them.  I cannot control what others say about me, but I know the truth and I was not part of this discussion if it even actually took place nor did I authorize someone to have this conversation on my behalf.”

Jesse Benton was asked for comment twice on Tuesday, and continues to be non-responsive.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

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