There is a burgeoning scandal that threatens to sweep up Senator Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and maybe even, on its periphery, Ron Paul and the Tea Party.
So far, it has received little play in national media circles. But the FBI, the Federal Election Commission and the House Ethics Committee are currently digging away, and the probe is widening daily. The story is quite complicated and may require an extra reading or two for it make total sense.
It began with an investigation into dark money in the 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus and whether a State Senator was paid by the Ron Paul campaign to jump from Michelle Bachmann’s ship and throw his allegiance to Ron Paul.
Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson claimed at the time he didn’t receive anything. But Bachmann claimed a lot of money changed hands to precipitate the switch. She has since clammed up, as the investigation began to turn her way.
On Oct. 2, 2013, just hours after a special prosecutor found that Sorenson had violated Senate rules and may have committed a felony by knowingly making false statements to the Senate’s ethics panel, Sorenson resigned his Senate seat. The special prosecutor determined that there was probable cause that Sorenson violated Senate rules by “accepting compensation” from entities associated with former GOP presidential candidate Bachmann’s campaign “in exchange for his service” during the past caucus season.”
According to the report, Sorenson received $7,500 a month from Bachmann campaign entities through a circuitous route. The money was allegedly laundered through two political action committees into Colorado-based C&M Strategies, which then paid money into a corporation owned by Sorenson.
But Sorenson apparently didn’t intend to take a pay cut when he switched horses. Sorenson received a check — or his wife did — for $25,000 from Ron Paul’s deputy campaign manager, Dimitri Kesari, just prior to his switch. There are claims from some former Ron Paul staffers that Sorenson may have received as much as $100,000.
Sorenson didn’t cash the check and has since turned it over to the FBI, but he also failed to list it on campaign financial disclosure documents, which is a likely violation of Federal campaign laws.
Kesari wrote the check from the account of a jewelry business owned by his wife. Blogger and radio host Lee Stranahan, who has followed the scandal from the outset, writes that Kesari is a longtime political operative with extensive ties to both the National Right to Work Committee and the Ron Paul movement.
Kesari has set up groups connected to both Paul’s Campaign for Liberty as well as affiliates of the NRTWC. Additionally, his tentacles reach in to some groups that are affiliated with other conservative groups and candidates. One of note is in Montana where a Federal judge ruled that documents found inside a Colorado meth house will remain with a Federal grand jury probing illegal coordination between candidates and a group called American Tradition Partnership (formerly Western Tradition Partnership), which has ties to Kesari.
So how does this tie back to McConnell? Sorenson claims that McConnell’s campaign chairman, Jesse Benton, knew about the payment when it occurred — a claim Benton denies. Benton, who is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, was a high-ranking staffer for Ron Paul, Inc. and worked on Ron Paul’s Presidential campaign. In 2010, he was campaign manager for Rand Paul’s Senate bid.
Earlier this year, the McConnell campaign paid $61,956 to Hyllus Corp. The money was sent to a post office box that had previously been used to send checks to Kesari.
Open Secrets recently reported on claims by a former political operative with NRTWC and former Ron Paul campaign staffer that the organization was running a sprawling off-the-books mass-mailing operation that violated campaign finance laws and was contrary to its reporting with the Internal Revenue Service.
The staffer, Dennis Fusaro, had previously supplied Open Secrets with an email exchange between top Ron Paul 2012 campaign officials and an Iowa political operative that appeared to show them negotiating a payment structure for Sorenson’s endorsement. Additionally, Fusaro claims that before he resigned from NRTWC he informed the organization’s leadership, including vice president Doug Stafford, of his concerns that Kisari was violating ethics laws. Stafford went on to serve as Rand Paul’s chief of staff before moving to direct RAND PAC. Stafford’s wife, Elizabeth, has been paid as much as $30,000 this year by the McConnell campaign for fundraising consulting.
How long the probe into the electioneering shenanigans will continue is anyone’s guess. But the Barack Obama team is notorious for using dirty politics to defeat its opponents.
Rand Paul is a Tea Party darling. McConnell is trying to cozy up to Rand’s Tea Party supporters. It’s quite conceivable that the criminal Attorney General Eric Holder will wait until a crucial moment in the McConnell/Democratic challenger Senate race to frog march a McConnell staffer like Benton or McConnell himself into a black cruiser and off to the hoosegow.
And certainly the progressive left and mainstream media will do all they can to use it to tarnish other Tea Party candidates whether they are actually connected or not.