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WASHINGTON – Iowa’s Supreme Court chief justice will appoint an independent investigator with full subpoena powers to probe alleged ethics and criminal violations by Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, who is accused of being paid to work on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign.
In a 4-2 bipartisan vote, the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted Wednesday to request that an independent counsel investigate two charges against Sorenson. The investigator also will look into allegations that Sorenson stole a private database of home-school families from the personal computer of another Bachmann campaign worker, then used it to solicit campaign support from thousands of home-school families in Iowa.
An affidavit reviewed by the committee on Wednesday showed that former Bachmann chief of staff Andy Parrish said Bachmann approved plans to indirectly pay Sorenson $7,500 a month to work on her campaign. The alleged payments could violate an Iowa Senate ethics rule that prohibits members from accepting payments for work on political campaigns.
Parrish’s affidavit included copies of e-mails between him and other staff members discussing plans to use a company run by Bachmann’s then-national political director, Guy Short, to funnel payments to Sorenson. Sorenson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He filed an affidavit from an attorney who claimed to have reviewed his bank account and found no payments from the Bachmann campaign, her political action committee or Short’s company, C&M Strategies.
“I was never paid directly or indirectly by MichelePAC or the Bachmann campaign,” said a statement that Sorenson provided to the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday. “Andy Parrish, 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 attempt to provide contrary information.”
Parrish’s attorney, John Gilmore, issued a statement but did not directly address Sorenson’s claim.
“[Parrish] has no interest one way or the other in the outcome of the investigation, just as he had no interest in the outcome of what the committee would decide to do today,” Gilmore said in the statement.
Another former Bachmann staff member, Peter Waldron, filed the complaints against Sorenson, alleging the Iowa Republican knowingly violated the ethics rules and broke the law.
“The special investigator, I am certain, will conduct a thorough investigation, examine and collect more evidence, and in the end justice will be served,” Waldron said in a statement.
In reaction to the ruling, William McGinley, Bachmann’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney, said: “This matter is between the Iowa State Senate and an Iowa senator regarding … rules that never applied to Representative Bachmann or to the Bachmann for President campaign.”
‘Lots of skeletons’
The independent investigator will have the power to subpoena witness testimony, financial records and other evidence related to the case against Sorenson, who served as Bachmann’s campaign chairman in Iowa.
“At the end of the road, they’re going to discover nothing, because no Senate rules were broken,” said Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer.
Appointing an investigator to probe the claims was important to avoid the appearance of political gamesmanship, said Democrat Sen. Wally Horn, chairman of Iowa’s Senate Ethics Committee.
“If we [dismissed] it, it would look like we were pushing something under the rug and covering it up,” Horn said. “If we as a committee just kept investigating, it would [look] like we were on a witch hunt. So we got it out of politics.”
Horn couldn’t provide a timeline on when the investigator would begin or complete the report. The findings will determine whether the complaints against Sorenson merit dismissal or further review by the Ethics Committee.
The full Democratic-controlled Senate would have to vote on possible sanctions against Sorenson, which could range from reprimand to expulsion.
The independent investigation also could shed more light on the inner workings of Bachmann’s failed campaign.
In the weeks before the Iowa caucuses, where Bachmann ultimately finished second-to-last, Sorenson bailed on Bachmann’s campaign to work for former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
“There’s lot of skeletons, in lots of closets in politics,” Sporer said. “It’s never good when the skeletons come clambering out of the closets.”
Corey Mitchell and Kevin Diaz are correspondents in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.