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.




Stuck on 24 – Iowa Senate Remains Under Democrat Control

State-CapitolIt’s hard to imagine how things could have gone any better for Iowa Republicans on Tuesday night. They not only elected a new U.S. Senator in Joni Ernst, but they also won the state’s two open congressional seats, the open Secretary of State office, and added to their majority in the Iowa House of Representatives.

That’s on top of re-electing Governor Terry Branstad to an historic sixth term, as well as sending Congressman Steve King back to congress. It’s been 12 years since Republicans sent a new member to represent them in congress. This year, Iowa Republicans are sending three new faces to Washington, and in Ernst, we have the first female federal office holder from Iowa.

Republicans are in as good of a mood as they have ever been in Iowa, but there is one thing that is gnawing at them. Despite winning up and down the ballot, there is frustration at the Republicans’ inability to capture control of the Iowa Senate.

Going into Tuesday’s election, Republicans controlled 24 seats of the 50-seat chamber. After another fantastic election cycle for Republicans, the senate GOP caucus still stands at 24. Republican Tim Kraayenbrink defeated incumbent Democrat Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge, but Republicans lost Sandy Greiner’s seat,. Greiner retired after the legislative session.

The frustration of Republicans could be seen on social media sites, in the comment section of this website, and were voiced on WHO Radio by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross and syndicated radio host and columnist Steve Deace during Jan Mickelsen’s morning talk show.

Deace wrote the following on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

“Tremendous night for Iowa Republicans. But political science says they did something virtually impossible tonight. They won a dominant gubernatorial victory statewide, a solid U.S. Senate victory statewide, and picked up four seats in the Iowa House. Yet didn’t pick up a single seat in the State Senate despite that tidal wave. The formulas say you’re not supposed to do that. So either Mike Gronstal is the greatest Democrat tactician they’ve ever had, or someone needs to be fired. How does [the] GOP win governor in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois on the same night, but can’t pick up any seats in the Iowa state senate? Thanks, and I’ll hang up and listen.”

I think Deace’s Facebook entry captures the frustration of many Republicans pretty well, and I understand why most people would naturally come to this conclusion. I’ll try to break this down as best I can. For the record, I too am frustrated, but if we are going to assign blame, there are a number of things that have kept Republicans in the minority in the Iowa Senate since 2006.

First, a history lesson.

Republicans lost control of the Iowa Senate following the 2004 election cycle. In 2005 and 2006 Republicans shared control of the Senate with the Democrats. After the 2006 election, the first of three big election cycles for Democrats, Democrats took control of 30 seats. After the 2008 election, they actually expanded their majority to 32 seats. In 2010, Republicans stormed back when they won six seats that brought the Senate to the 24-26 split that still stands today.

Second, a reality check.

One thing that many people seem to repeatedly overlook is that only half of the seats in the Iowa Senate are up in any given election cycle. That means half of the state is not in play. Either by fate or bad luck, the more Republican leaning seats come up for election in presidential election cycles, while the more Democratic seats are up for election in mid-term elections.

When redistricting occurred after the 2010 elections, I thought the proposed maps were good for Senate Republicans but bad for House Republicans. I was shocked that Gronstal accepted the first proposal. Looking back on things, what he may have seen that nobody else noticed is that a number of favorable Republican districts would be up for election in presidential years, which, for the past decade, have favored Democrats.

As we saw in 2010, Republicans made huge gains, and in fact won districts that they really had no business winning in Sioux City and Ottumwa. The seats held by Rick Bertrand and Mark Chelgren were considered one-term rentals by most, yet both won re-election on Tuesday, which is impressive in and of it self.

It is true that Republicans had other opportunities to gain the seats necessary to win a majority in the Iowa Senate. As mentioned earlier, Republicans did pick up Senate District 5 where Tim Kraayenbrink defeated incumbent Democrat Daryl Beall. Senate District 39, Greiner’s old seat, has a 300 registered voters advantage for Republicans, but the Republican nominee Mike Moore wasn’t the campaigner that Greiner was, and Democrats nominated a candidate with deep roots in the district.

The other seats Republicans once had high hopes for were Senate Districts 27 and 15. District 27 has a 2000 registered Republican voter registration, but it also has a popular Democrat incumbent in Amanda Ragan. Ragan’s popularity is evident by the fact that she defeated her Republican opponent by almost 3000 votes.

Senate District 15, which includes eastern Polk County and Jasper County, was vacant. The District has a 1200 registered voter advantage for Democrats. Republicans believed that had a shot, but Democrat Chaz Allen was the ideal candidate. Allen won by 1300 votes, or basically the same margin the Democrats have in registered voters.

The point is, even though it was a great year for Republicans, there were very limited opportunities for Republicans to actually gain seats. Holding the Bertrand and Chelgren seats was a tall order, but district makeup and the quality of candidates each party put up played a major role in Democrats keeping their slim majority in Iowa Senate.

Third, Republicans are still paying for the sins of their past.

Look, I get it. Despite the difficult hand that Republicans were dealt, people will still want to reprimand those who they feel are responsible for not winning a majority. Obviously the first place people will look to is the leadership team in the Iowa Senate. They are not without blame, but I also don’t think it’s fair to pin it all on them. In many ways, I think Senate Republicans are still paying for the sins of their past.

Presidential election cycles have not been kind to Senate Republicans, but there are two losses in particular that continue to haunt them. Both involve two incumbents losing their re-election bids in 2012. The first is Senate District 6 where Senator Merlin Martz lost his re-election bid to Mary Jo Wilhelm by just 126 votes.

One of the defining issues of the race was a lawsuit by Bartz over a neighbor’s fence line. We saw how neighborly lawsuits played out in the U.S. Senate race this year, so it’s easy to see how Bartz lost a heavily Republican District to a Democrat in a presidential year.

The other race involved Senator Shawn Hamerlinck in Senate District 42. Redistricting pitted Hamerlinck against Republican Senator Jim Hahn. Hamerlinck prevailed in the primary, but lost the general election by 2010 votes despite the District having slight Republican voter registration advantage.   Had either Bartz or Hamerlinck won re-election in 2012, the Iowa Senate would be split 25-25. Had the both won, Republicans would be in the majority right now.

Greiner’s decision to retire and vacate district 39 also deserves discussion. Greiner came out of retirement to win the seat in 2010. Her decision to serve only one term is somewhat of a surprise. If you listened to Greiner’s retirement speech, it was apparent that she wasn’t happy in the Iowa senate. Greiner went out of her way to praise some of her Democrat colleagues, but didn’t have much to say about her Republican colleagues.

After winning her Senate Seat, Greiner was the ranking member of the Senate Ethics committee. It’s a committee that typically does nothing, but that wasn’t the case last year. Last year, the Ethics Committee dealt with multiple issues stemming from Senator Kent Sorenson’s dealing with Michele Bachmann’s and Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns. Greiner voted in favor of authorizing the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court to appoint a special investigator to look into Sorenson’s dealings from the 2012 presidential campaign.

Greiner was the deciding vote. It was obvious that her Republican colleagues wanted the ordeal to just go away. Her decision likely put her at odds with her caucus, which could explain her decision not to seek re-election. Had she sought re-election, she would have likely won. Earlier this year, Sorenson pleaded guilty to two counts in federal court. He is currently awaiting sentencing and could serve up to 25 years in prison.

Fourth, winning the Iowa Senate was not a priority.

Nobody will admit it, but winning a Republican majority in the Iowa Senate was not a priority. Obviously the U.S. Senate race was priority number one, followed by re-electing Governor Branstad and winning two open congressional seats. With so many high-profile races on the ballot in 2014, raising money was difficult for candidates not at or near the top of the ballot.

The U.S. Senate race was a top priority for Branstad early on. Ernst was his favorite, and he worked behind the scenes to help her be successful. In the closing weeks of the election, Branstad did things to help congressional candidates in the First and Second Congressional Districts. In fact he encouraged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to campaign in both.

Branstad also made it no secret that he badly wanted to win Lee County, one of only two counties he has never carried. Branstad was successful in his quest but one has to wonder if his obsession came at a cost. In addition to Branstad taking Christie to southeast Iowa, he also spent $88,000 on TV ads in the Quincy, Illinois, media market.

Those decisions likely helped him win Lee County and perhaps benefitted the Republican congressional candidate in the First District, but maybe Christie could have been utilized in other parts of the District where there were competitive Iowa Senate races.

While it might not have helped Branstad win Lee County, Governor Christie could have been visited Clinton County where Brian Schmidt, a Republican County Supervisor, was battling State Senator Rita Hart. Schmidt lost by less than 900 votes. Mark Chelgren won his re-election campaign, but Ottumwa was another possible location to use Christie’s wide appeal to unearth some votes. Christie could have also been used in Johnson County to aid Moore’s campaign and maybe find more votes in the best county in the state for Democrats.

At the end of the day, Branstad was probably going to win Lee County anyway. Even if he needed the visit to win it, is it more important to win an Iowa Senate seat or to have won 98 of 99 counties in the state? I’m pretty sure Branstad’s place in Iowa history was already secure.


It’s easy to point fingers and blame Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix for failing to win a majority in the Iowa Senate in an election cycle where Iowa Republicans won everything but one congressional seat and two statewide offices held by Democrats for decades. The problem is that there are numerous factors that have kept Republicans in the minority in the Iowa Senate since 2007. As you can see, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Sandy Greiner Will Not Seek Reelection to State Senate

State Senator Sandy Greiner has served in the Iowa legislature for all but two of the last 20 years.  Greiner announced on Friday that she will not be seeking re-election to another term in Senate District 39.

Greiner served four terms in the Iowa House beginning in 1992.  She left the House to run for the Iowa Senate in 2000, where she only served two years due to redistricting.  Greiner then returned to the Iowa House where she served another three terms before retiring before the 2008 elections.  In 2010, Greiner came out of retirement to defeat Democrat incumbent Becky Schmitz in the southeast Iowa district.

Greiner’s retirement isn’t necessarily unexpected, but holding the seat will now be more difficult for Senate Republicans.  Senate District 39 has 13335 registered Democrats and 13352 registered Republicans.  The district, which now includes part of rural Johnson County, will be a key battleground in the upcoming election.  The race could also end up being one of the more costly senate contests in 2014.

On a personal note:

Sandy Greiner is one of my favorite legislators for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, she has always displayed a passion to do what is in the best interest of the state and the people of her district.  Secondly, few legislators work harder at helping elect other Republicans than she does.  During the heat of an election, Greiner could often be found in a campaign office making phone calls to help get a fellow Republican elected.  It didn’t matter if it was a special election or a general election, Greiner was always willing to be part of the team.  You just don’t see that many veteran legislators working in the trenches to help other Republicans be successful.

My fondness for Greiner goes beyond respect for her work as a legislator and Republican activists.  Greiner is a no-nonsense individual who is never afraid to tell you what she thinks.  While the Iowa Capitol is still very much a men’s fraternity, Greiner could more than hold her own amongst her colleagues.  Even more impressive to me was her ability to not take herself too seriously and the fact that she tried to remind her peers that they were no different than anyone else.

My favorite Greiner memory from Greiner’s legislative career was her retirement speech in the Iowa House House in 1999.  I’ve never seen so many uncomfortable legislators and staffers in my life.  I’d retell the story, but I could never do it justice.  All I’ll say is that you can bet I’ll be in the chamber when Greiner gives her retirement speech next spring.

Greiner is a class act, and she will be sorely missed in the legislature.

Thank you, Senator Greiner, for all your years of service.



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Iowa Republicans Can’t Afford to Write Off the Senate Anymore

Iowa_SenateWhen you are the minority party in a legislative chamber, raising money can be difficult and, at times, can seem almost impossible. Successful campaigns require money to be able to operate. It’s not everything you need, but financial resources are necessary in politics today. Regardless of the quality of candidates the Senate Republicans are able to recruit, raising money is difficult when you are significantly outnumbered.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate are out-numbered by Democrats 32 to 18. At first glance, being eight seats away from a majority would make some think that they are in a similar position to Republicans in the House, but with only 25 seats in the senate up for election every two years, Senate Republicans don’t have as many routes to travel to get to a majority status.

For the past couple of election cycles, Republicans have treated the Senate like a redheaded stepchild come election time. In 2006, Republicans wrote off the Senate and focused on the House and gubernatorial contest. That election year turned out to be horrible for Republicans. Jim Nussle lost to Chet Culver, and the House lost seats. Two years later, Republicans were once again focused primarily on winning back the House. Despite the focus on winning House seats, Republicans again lost seats yet again.

While it wasn’t necessarily a failed strategy, the single focus on the House has directly contributed to where Republicans are today in the Senate. The 18 seats that Republicans currently control in the chamber is the bare minimum that they should hold. The good news for Senate Republicans is that there is nowhere for them to go but up. While some of the same people still want the focus to be on the House, the picture in the Senate isn’t as bad as some people think. Getting to a majority status will be difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Of the 25 seats that are up for election this year, Democrats hold 19 of them, while Republicans control only six. Republicans should hold all six of those seats. The only seat that has any question marks is Senate District 41, which is currently held by Sen. David Hartsuch.

Roby Smith is challenging Sen. Hartsuch in the Republican primary this June. Whoever emerges from the primary will likely win in November. Voter registration numbers in the district are almost identical for Republicans and Democrats. Democrats have a two-voter advantage over Republicans. The district has historically performed well for Republicans and should do so again in 2010.

Republicans have one open seat to hold, Senate District 27, which is being vacated by Sen. Ron Wieck. The Republican candidate is Bill Anderson, a current staffer for Congressman Steve King who also previously worked for Senator Grassley. Anderson is young, energetic, and well known and respected in the area. He should have no problems holding onto Wieck’s seat. Anderson will also be a great addition to the Republican caucus in the Senate.

Of the 19 seats that Democrats control, only two of them are open seats. Republicans have fielded exceptional candidates in both. In Senate District 1, Rick Bertrand is running for Sen. Steve Warnstadt’s seat. Bertrand ran for the House in 2008 and came within 300 votes. Voter registration in the district favors Democrats by a significant amount, but Bertrand performed well in half of the district in 2008. Another factor to take into account is that both house seats that make up the district are open seats and will have outstanding Republican candidates running in them.

The other open Democratic seat is Senate District 13, which was held by Sen. Roger Stewart. Democrats have a huge voter registration advantage in the district, but Republicans have recruited an outstanding candidate in Andrew Naeve.

Naeve is a graduate of Cornell University and comes from a well-known and respected farming family with deep roots in the district. In addition to being involved in his family’s farming operation, Naeve serves on the East-Central Community School Board and also coaches the high school basketball team.

Having been born and raised in this district, I can tell you that a candidate with Neave’s background will do well in this area. He might be the best candidate Republicans have fielded in this part of the state in a long time. His rural background and ties give him a chance to win in a part of the state where few Republicans have been successful.

An issue to watch is forced school consolidation. The East-Central school district is very small, but the issue of consolidation could be a hot topic depending where his opponent this fall stands on the issue. People in these school districts don’t like what they hear from Senators like Matt McCoy on this issue. It could be a major factor in this race.

While Bertrand should win and Naeve is an outstanding candidate, there are three other seats that Senate Republicans should easily pick up. The first is Senate District 45 that is currently held by Sen. Becky Schmitz. Schmitz is a left-leaning liberal in a district that has a Republican voter registration advantage.

Making matters worse for Schmitz is that former state legislator Sandy Greiner has decided to run against her. Greiner is well known and respected. Even though she will first have to win a three way primary, Greiner is an outstanding campaigner with a proven track record that should lead her to victory in the primary and in November.

Another district where Senate Republicans will add to their ranks is Senate District 9 where former State Representative Bill Dix is running against Bill Heckroth. Like Greiner, Dix is an outstanding campaigner and is well respected and well known in the area. Senate District 9 has 2800 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Every dollar that Mike Gronstal spends to save Heckroth will be wasted as Dix should win this seat in November.

Another Democrat incumbent who is in trouble is Sen. Staci Appel in district 37. State Representative Kent Sorenson is running against Appel in a district that is far more favorable than the House District that he won in 2008.

Despite raising and spending massive amounts of money for her Senate campaign in 2006, Appel was only able to defeat her opponent by 772 votes. She outspent her opponent four to one. Sorenson pulled the upset of the cycle when he defeated Rep. Mark Davitt in 2008. Sorenson’s previous success in the most difficult part of that Senate district in 2008 should allow him to put Appel out to pasture. Sorenson is a better fit for the district and works his tail off.

It should be pretty easy for Senate Republicans to get to 21 seats, and if Bertrand and Neave are successful they are suddenly in the hunt with 23 seats. Finding three more seats could be difficult, but they do have solid candidates in districts that could swing to the Senate to Republican control.

Republicans have a sizable voter registration advantage in Senate District 5 and have a candidate in Robert Bacon who is well known and who could give incumbent Sen. Rich Olive fits. Bacon is a funeral home director who owns two funeral homes in the district.

Another candidate to keep an eye on is Mark Chelgren who is running against Keith Kreiman. Chelgren is a small business owner who creates jobs in a district with the highest unemployment rate in the state. In addition to Sorenson’s race, the marriage issue could also be in play in this district. Kreiman says that he wants to let people vote on the issue, yet he voted against the amendment in 2004. This race could be interesting.

There are other candidates and districts that could come into play under the right circumstances. Districts 21, 23, and 25 all have quality candidates running in them, some of which have contested primaries.

The road to a Republican majority in the Senate is not an easy one to navigate, but that doesn’t mean Republicans should only make sizable investments in the House races. With 19 Democratic seats up, Republicans must make significant gains now if they want to ever have a chance at wrestling control away from Mike Gronstal.

Even if Senate Republicans return with just three new members (Greiner, Dix, and Sorenson), the complexion of the Senate will change overnight. I think the Senate Republicans will win more than just those three seats, which would make 2010 a good year for them. The question is, how good of a year can it be? If they can find the necessary resources, it could be outstanding.

Sandy Greiner Announces State Senate Candidacy

Sandy GreinerFormer state legislator Sandy Greiner announced that she is running for the State Senate at county conventions today in Johnson, Washington, Jefferson, Wapello, and Van Buren counties.  Greiner would face first term first-term State Senator Becky Schmitz in Senate District 45 if she were successful in the June primary.

Greiner makes the SD 45 a likely Republican pick-up in the fall.  She would join former State Representative Bill Dix and current State Representative Kent Sorenson as the top Republican recruits in the Senate.

Darin Beck Announces State House Candidacy

Darin BeckCedar Valley restaurateur, Darin Beck announced his candidacy for House District 19.  Beck will face Democrat incumbent Rep. Bob Kressig this fall.  House District 19 consists of Cedar Falls and the western part of Black Hawk County.

Beck owns a number of restaurants in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Grinnell, and chaired the Iowa Restaurant Association in 2006 and 2007.  He is an outstanding recruit to run against Kressig, who was elected in 2004.