WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s former chief of staff, GOP operative Andy Parrish, stated in a signed affidavit Monday that the Minnesota Republican approved payments made to a top aide who was barred by Iowa Senate ethics rules from accepting money for his work on her presidential campaign.
The suspected payments to Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson, first alleged in a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed by campaign whistleblower Peter Waldron, are now the subject of an inquiry by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee.
Sorenson or his company, Grassroots Strategy, allegedly were paid $7,500 a month through C&M Strategies, a Colorado-based company run by Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short, who was serving as the campaign’s national political director.
“Congresswoman Bachmann knew of and approved this arrangement,” Parrish said in his affidavit. “She, like the rest of us, understood from Senator Sorenson that it did not run afoul of any Iowa Senate ethics rules. We relied on his representations in this regard.”
Bachmann, reached at a law office in Washington, declined to comment. “I’m not talking,” she said.
Bachmann campaign lawyer Bill McGinley said the affidavit confirms that Bachmann broke no laws. “The way the media is portraying this story is wrong, reckless, and outrageous,” he said. “The affidavit by a former employee in fact confirms that Congresswoman Bachmann followed all applicable laws and ethical rules and instructed those working for her to do the same. The alleged arrangement at issue was both lawful and properly reported under federal law. This dispute is between the Iowa Senate and an Iowa senator.”
‘Off the books’
While Bachmann is not herself subject to Iowa Senate rules, Waldron contends she could potentially run afoul of federal campaign finance laws if her campaign did not properly disclose all its staff expenses or carried some of them “off the books.” Sources close to Bachmann’s campaign argue that federal law does not require them to itemize such expenses by subcontractors.
Sorensen, who switched allegiances from Bachmann to Ron Paul days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, has said allegations that he was paid for his work on the Bachmann campaign are “totally baseless.”
Parrish, a close Bachmann aide who worked in her congressional office and on her presidential bid, said he was instrumental in recruiting Sorenson, a Tea Party figure who became the chairman of Bachmann’s Iowa campaign.
Bachmann’s campaign publicly acknowledged the restrictions Sorenson faced in a news release announcing the expansion of her Iowa staff that was issued two months before the pivotal Iowa caucuses: “Sorenson is serving in a full-time role but state Senate rules preclude lawmakers from being paid by the campaign.”
But according to Parrish, Sorenson was instead paid indirectly through Short and C&M Strategies. Such an arrangement could potentially skirt the intent of Iowa ethics rules that forbid state senators from doing presidential campaign work for pay.
“Senators have a bit of influence in the state, and with presidential candidates coming through every four years, there was a concern about those senators being bought by presidential campaigns and having undue influence,” said political scientist Christopher Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa.
Short is also a subject of the FEC inquiry because he was being paid by Bachmann’s independent political organization, MichelePAC, at the same time that he was nominally working on her presidential campaign, a potential violation of federal election rules.
Attorneys for Short and the Bachmann campaign say his work for Michele PAC, which paid him $40,000 in the months preceding and after the caucuses, was separate from his campaign work.
The alleged financial improprieties are the subject of a separate inquiry by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which is also looking into whether the campaign improperly helped promote Bachmann’s political memoir, “Core of Conviction.”
The investigations are part of a growing web of legal problems facing Bachmann, including a lawsuit by former staffer Barbara Heki alleging that Sorenson stole a proprietary e-mail list of Iowa home-school families from her personal computer.
‘Outstanding public servant’
Parrish said his decision to come forward is not based on any animus toward Bachmann, who let him go last year before he went on to help spearhead the unsuccessful effort to pass a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
“My testimony is not in any way a rebuke to or betrayal of Congresswoman Bachmann,” he said in his affidavit. “To the contrary, I consider her a personal friend and an outstanding public servant.”
Rather, Parrish said, he was motivated by his friendship with Waldron, whose complaint against Sorenson before the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee could have been dismissed at the end of this week if he did not come forward.
“I do know for a fact that the senator [Sorenson] was paid and representations to the contrary are simply not true,” Parrish said. The affidavit also contends that Bachmann, a former IRS attorney, “consistently instructed all who worked on her behalf to follow the law.”
But Parrish’s affidavit also makes clear that Sorenson expected payment for his support, and that “we [Sorenson and Parrish] both knew that Iowa Senate ethics prevented any presidential campaign from paying a senator for his or her efforts.”
Exhibits attached to Parrish’s affidavit chronicle e-mail exchanges between him, Sorenson and Short looking for ways around the ethics restrictions. “If we need to pay him from MPAC [MichelePAC] we can,” Short wrote in a March 2011 e-mail. “He can be a consultant and give us strategic advice.”
According to Parrish, Short “eventually worked out an arrangement” to pay Sorenson, whom Short referred to as “the real deal” who could provide Bachmann’s presidential campaign a boost.
Parrish said C&M handled all the paperwork, and that he was not privy to any contracts, checks or other documents reflecting their relationship. His affidavit also states that he does not personally know if the arrangement to pay Sorenson violated the ethics rules.