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It also is legally questionable. “The idea of paying a major employee through a subvendor, so you don’t see the salary, is a problem,” said former FEC general counsel Larry Noble, who now heads the watchdog group Americans for Campaign Reform. “This is someone who was working directly for the campaign.”
If Short used C&M to pay Sorenson on his own, without money from the campaign, some analysts say, that would be an impermissible campaign contribution, far in excess of the FEC’s $2,500 individual contribution limit.
A dual role
Florida evangelist Peter Waldron, the campaign whistleblower who brought the FEC complaint in January, alleges that Sorenson actually was paid through MichelePAC, Bachmann’s independent political organization.
FEC records show that MichelePAC paid C&M Strategies about $160,000 in the year leading up to the Jan. 3, 2012, Iowa caucuses.
In the complaint, Waldron alleges that Short did about $40,000 worth of campaign work on the PAC’s dime. Counting the alleged payments to Sorenson and other campaign aides reportedly on the PAC payroll, that could bring MichelePAC’s total Bachmann presidential campaign contributions to more than $100,000. Federal election law limits PAC contributions to $5,000.
Attorneys for Bachmann and Short contend that his work for MichelePAC was totally separate from his campaign work, though they have not provided details.
Sorenson also is implicated in a separate police investigation and lawsuit Bachmann faces. He is alleged to have stolen an e-mail list from the computer of another campaign staffer and used it to solicit thousands of home-school families in Iowa.
In the end, Sorenson did not provide Bachmann much of a boost in his state. Days before the Iowa caucuses, he jumped ship to the presidential campaign of a Bachmann rival, then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @StribDiaz