WASHINGTON — The Iowa state senator who allegedly broke state ethics rules by receiving payment from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign resigned Wednesday after a state investigator said those payments did, indeed, take place.
Bachmann’s presidential campaign is said to have paid Kent Sorenson $7,500 a month through a consulting firm operated by a consultant who also ran Bachmann’s leadership PAC, “Michele PAC.” Former Bachmann aide Andy Parrish testified in April that Bachmann knew about the payments but did not know they were against Iowa ethics rules. The Office of Congressional Ethics announced in September that its investigation suggested payments did go to Sorensen, but that Bachmann did not know about them. Of the three charges leveled against her, alleged Sorenson compensation was the only one it recommended the House Ethics Committee ignore.
According to a report from a special investigator for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, Sorenson received payments from both Michele PAC and Bachmann’s presidential campaign through a corporation he owed called Grassroots Strategies. Those payments would constitute a violation of Iowa state Senate ethics rules that prohibit lawmakers from receiving compensation for working on political campaigns.
Furthermore, the report indicated Sorenson may have committed a felony by lying about receiving the payments.
The report says that in Sorenson’s cases, money from the presidential campaigns was received by a company called Grassroots Strategies, Inc., which was wholly owned by Sorenson. In the case of the payments from the Bachmann-associated PACs, Sorenson took money from Grassroots Strategies as income for himself, [Iowa Senate Ethics Committee counsel Mark] Wienhardt found.
For his work on Bachmann’s presidential campaign, Sorenson received payment from the Bachmann For President campaign committee and MichelePAC, a leadership PAC set up by Bachmann to raise money for other candidates, Weinhardt found.
“We believe it was a plain violation of Senate Ethics Rule 6 for Senator Sorenson to accept compensation from MichelePAC to work on Representative Bachmann’s behalf,” Weinhardt writes in the report.
Sorenson’s payments from Bachmann for President, meanwhile, present “a question of interpretation” of the Senate rule — and indicate a need for the Senate to rewrite the rule to clarify its intent.
The report also notes two instances in which Sorenson denied being compensated by the Bachmann campaign in written statements to the Senate Ethics Committee. There is probable cause to believe, Weinhardt found, that those statements are false and that Sorenson knew them to be false when he made them.
Such false statements would constitute felonious misconduct in office, which is a class D felony.
Sorenson resigned Wednesday, telling the Register it was what’s best for his family. The investigator also considered whether Sorenson was behind the theft of a list of home-school boosters for the campaign’s benefit (Bachmann settled a lawsuit over the incident over the summer) and if he accepted payment from candidate Ron Paul’s campaign in exchange for an endorsement of him.
In investigating Bachmann’s presidential campaign, the OCE recommended the House Ethics Committee dismiss complaints that Bachmann broke ethics rules by improperly paid Sorenson
If the payments took place, “there is not substantial reason to believe Rep. Bachmann knew the Federal Election Commission disclosure reports filed by her presidential campaign were false,” the OCE wrote. The OCE voted to send the allegations to the FEC for investigation, and the House Ethics Committee has thusfar declined to pursue a more thorough Bachmann investigation.Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.