For better or worse, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is more accustomed to the limelight than the leftovers of collateral damage. But it turns out that the Kent Sorenson incident in Iowa was even bigger than her.
As her former presidential campaign chairman in the state, Sorenson, it now appears, was available to the highest bidder. Bachmann said as much when the influential Iowa state senator ditched her 2012 presidential campaign feigning a toothache, only to turn up hours later addressing a large Ron Paul rally in Des Moines.
E-mails and surreptitiously recorded phone conversations made public in the past two weeks suggest that the Paul campaign all but bribed Sorenson to defect in the waning days before the Iowa caucuses. There were discussions of more than $200,000 in salary and contributions to Sorenson’s fledgling PAC.
It’s not clear whether money actually changed hands. But by Sorenson’s private account to a former friend and colleague, now on tape, a check for $30,000 ended up in his wife’s hands.
Bachmann comes off as the victim in this tawdry affair of dirty-dealing and skulduggery. It also puts a new light on theft allegations that snowballed into a broader probe of questionable financial dealings now being unraveled by, among others, the House Ethics Committee and the FBI.
An e-mail list of Iowa home-schoolers allegedly misappropriated by Bachmann’s campaign — the subject of a recent out-of-court settlement — was apparently part of the negotiations between Sorenson and the Paul campaign. In retrospect, that helps explain Sorenson’s behind-the-scenes role in obtaining the list from the personal computer of an unsuspecting Bachmann staffer, Barbara Heki, who sued the Bachmann over the incident.
It turns out the home-school list would convey to the Paul campaign once the Sorenson deal was consummated, according to e-mails between intermediaries for Sorenson and Paul in late 2011, when Sorenson’s exit was still in the planning stages.
There’s no evidence that Paul’s aides knew how the list came into Sorenson’s hands. Had they used it, as Bachmann did, Paul might have found his name in the caption of Heki’s lawsuit, along with Bachmann’s.
As it is, what started as a petty piece of palace intrigue in Des Moines has sullied not only Bachmann and Paul. It also has dragged in U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, whose re-election campaign in Kentucky is being managed by Jesse Benton, one of the former Paul aides linked to the Sorenson deal.
Unfortunately for Bachmann, the McConnell-Paul connection has only served to revive a story that had largely receded in the slow summer months since she announced she would not run for another term in Congress next year.
Sorenson remains the target of a special probe launched by the Iowa State Senate to determine whether he was in fact paid to support the Bachmann campaign, an arrangement that many — including some Bachmann campaign operatives — believed to be a potential violation of Iowa Senate ethics rules.
Now added to the body of evidence are e-mails suggesting that Sorenson needed $8,000 a month to help Paul to “match” what he was getting to help Bachmann. That’s actually more than the $7,500 Sorenson was alleged to be taking to support Bachmann.
But even as it becomes increasingly evident that Sorenson was in it at least in part for the cash and prizes, Bachmann remains publicly silent on the payments.