FBI agents have searched the home of former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, a top official in U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, his lawyer told the Star Tribune Wednesday.
The search, conducted two weeks ago, appeared focused on communications between various campaign operatives and Sorenson, who abruptly quit as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman in the closing days of the Iowa Republican caucuses and threw his support behind Ron Paul.
“It was a very thorough federal criminal search warrant,” said Des Moines attorney Ted Sporer, who represents Sorenson. “It’s pretty obvious they are looking for communications with a presidential campaign, or third parties working for a presidential campaign.”
Both the Bachmann and Paul campaigns have come under scrutiny for allegedly making secret payments to Sorenson, a Christian conservative and Tea Party activist who recently resigned from the Iowa Senate under an ethics cloud.
According to Sporer, agents took computers and other mater materials connected to Sorenson’s work with both campaigns, suggesting that the federal probe into Bachmann’s campaign finances is far from over. A person who answered Sorenson's phone Wednesday said he was not available for comment.
The FBI field office in Omaha referred questions about the raid to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Iowa, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Star Tribune. A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington said he could provide no information.
Two former aides to the Minnesota Republican told the Star Tribune in May that they had been questioned by FBI agents from the bureau’s public integrity section. Central to the FBI inquiry were alleged payments to Sorenson.
But recent allegations of payments by Paul operatives appear to have broadened the scope of the federal inquiry.
“It’s hard to unravel,” Sporer told the Star Tribune. “I don’t know if it’s a series of related investigations, or if it’s one big investigation, or multiple unrelated investigations. My gut instinct is it’s one investigation.”
Sporer said Sorenson, now working in real estate, cooperated with the agents while his wife took their home-schooled children and left the house during the search.
“I wouldn’t call it a raid,” Sporer said. “It wasn’t unanticipated….It’s our intention to cooperate at all stages. Obviously, we don’t think Mr. Sorenson was involved in any wrongdoing.”
An account of the raid was initially reported online Wednesday by libertarian economist Robert Wenzel in the Economic Policy Journal. Wenzel, citing two unnamed sources, said agents spent seven hours in Sorenson’s Des Moines area home scouring through family computers.
A special investigator for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee found “probable cause” earlier this year that Sorenson broke state rules by taking money for presidential campaign work, including a $7,500 monthly salary from Bachmann’s political action committee and an uncashed $25,000 check from an operative in the Paul campaign.
Among the allegations swirling around Sorenson are reports that he could provide the Paul campaign with a pilfered list of Iowa home school activists taken from the personal computer of Bachmann campaign staffer Barb Heki, who later settled with the Bachmann campaign for an undisclosed sum.
Bachmann initially accused Sorenson of switching allegiances for money. Bus she remained publicly silent about whether he was paid for work he did on behalf of her own campaign. Neither her campaign attorney nor her congressional office responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Sorenson has steadfastly denied being paid by either campaign.
The alleged payments are now the subject of inquiries by the FBI, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and the House Ethics Committee.
The Star Tribune also has obtained documents indicating a federal grand jury probe of several top Bachmann campaign operatives, including Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. Among the records that have been subpoenaed by the Justice Department are financial registers of the National Fiscal Conservative (NFC) Political Action Committee, which allegedly agreed to help raise funds for a campaign mailer ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Federal authorities also are looking at allegations of potentially illegal coordination between the Bachmann campaign and the NFC PAC, as well as with Bachmann’s own political action committee, MichelePAC, which reportedly paid Sorenson through Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short.
Bachmann announced last spring that she would not seek another term in Congress.
The Minnesota Republican Party and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann favored Domino's. Ron Paul's presidential campaign preferred American Pie.
And last year, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and northern Minnesota Democratic congressional hopeful Jeff Anderson went for Pizza Luce while U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who bested Anderson in a primary, bestowed Sammy's Pizza in both Hibbing and Duluth with his business.
Since Minnesotans can get as passionate about pizza choices as they are about politics, Hot Dish asked the Center for Responsive Politics to generate a list of all the pizza purchases from Minnesota's federal campaigns of late.
Check out the map of pizza payments below and perform your own pizza partisanship on the data here.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has excelled in her ability to gather small contributions from donors.
But this year, the amount of her donations that were under $200 topped the charts, drawing attention from the Federal Election Commission. In three months preceding July, she had taken in $614,000 in small donations, about 75 percent of her total haul for the quarter. Candidates do not need to disclose the names, occupations and address of donors who give less than $200 but for donors who give above that amount candidates need to disclose all that information.
Back in September, the Federal Election Commission reminded Bachmann, who is not running for re-election, of that rule and asked her to confirm that she was following the letter of the law.
In response this week, Bachmann pledged she was.
"The committee received a high volume of smaller contributions," Nancy Watkins, Bachmann's treasurer, told the FEC.
Bachmann's take in small, undisclosed donations skyrocketed as her national star rose.
According to calculations from the Center for Responsive Politics, 64 percent of her fundraising for her congressional committee in 2012 was from small, undisclosed donors. In 2010, her under-$200 donation was 55 percent of the total. In 2008, it was just 28 percent.
According to her October filing with the Federal Election Commission, Bachmann received no contributions from individuals in the last three months. She announced she was not running for re-election in May.
The recent hauls from small dollar donors are high compared to most members of congress -- even those who have national followings.
Democrat U.S. Sen. Al Franken has taken in 34 percent of his total haul from donations under $200, according to figures tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics, and took in about the same in the 2012 and 2010 cycles. Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, brought in 17 percent of his 2014 cash from undisclosed, small dollar donors. And Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, of California, has brought in 27 percent from those donors.
But, unlike Bachmann, none of those have run for president.
Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign has been under considerable scrutiny for its campaign finance dealings. Thus far her congressional campaign, which has helped fund her presidential campaign debt, has not been under similar examination by regulators. The letter from the FEC may indicate a change in that.
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday that it will extend its probe of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 White House bid, although it gave no timetable for a resolution of the long-standing case.
The decision came with the release of 430-pages of investigative materials from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which found “substantial reason” to believe Bachmann’s campaign violated campaign finance laws and rules barring the use of campaign staff to promote her book, “Core of Conviction.”
The OCE report is the first by any of the half-dozen federal and state agencies investigating Bachmann's campaign that offers an official window into the nature and the scope of the allegations arising from Bachmann’s topsy-turvy White House bid.
While deciding to pursue the Bachmann case further, the Ethics Committee leaves the four-term congresswoman somewhat in an ethical limbo: The committee chose not to dismiss the case against her; nor did it immediately impanel a subcommittee to conduct hearings into the case.
From the people who brought you the federal election complaints and affidavits against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, now comes the book: “Bachmannistan."
The tell-all book comes direct from the whistleblower, Florida minister Peter Waldron, the man behind most of the legal turmoil that has visited the Minnesota congresswoman since she ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
The “report from the inside” is co-authored by Twin Cities attorney John Gilmore, the lawyer who represented former Bachmann aide Andy Parrish, who helped engineer her run for the presidency before a falling out in Iowa.
The subhead for the new digital book, which will be distributed through Amazon on Kindle, is “Behind the Lines,” -- a line Bachmann herself likes to use to describe her presence in the Washington swamp.
While the broad outlines of the tale might be familiar to readers who have followed the Bachmann campaign saga since its slow unraveling in late 2011, Waldron promises that much remains to be told, and he’s naming names.
“It’s explosive,” said Waldron, who was the campaign’s point man for the evangelical pastor community. “It’s like handling an IED.”
While promising to pull no punches, Waldron credits Gilmore with imposing some lawyerly restraint on the Bachmann story. “He threw his body over some of the grenades,” Waldron said.