GOP operative Andy Parrish said in a signed statement that the congresswoman approved payments that are now being scrutinized.
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’