Blog — Office of Congressional Ethics
On Wednesday, a special investigator working for the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee released a report shedding new light on some of the offenses that put Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) on CREW’s Most Corrupt report last month. The Iowa report includes new evidence that Rep. Bachmann used her leadership political action committee (PAC) to pay an Iowa state senator for work on her presidential campaign.
Rep. Bachmann isn’t the report’s target. The special investigator’s main task was to look into whether the Iowa state senator, Kent Sorenson, broke state ethics rules by taking payments from Rep. Bachmann’s campaign. The report concluded there is “probable cause” he did. Sen. Sorenson resigned from the Senate in the wake of the report, but he may still face criminal charges over his duplicitous denials of the allegations. Most of the coverage has focused on Sen. Sorenson’s legal problems, with Rep. Bachmann as a background player, but the report reveals important new information about how the congresswoman’s campaign may have broken campaign finance laws.
The case is complex, but Rep. Bachmann’s campaign appears to have arranged to pay Sen. Sorenson through a circuitous route in order to hide the payments. At least some of the money came from her leadership PAC, MichelePAC. Campaign finance law limits the amount of contributions a leadership PAC may donate to a candidate and the amount a candidate can accept from a leadership PAC. When leadership PAC funds are used for “costs that could and should otherwise be paid for by a candidate’s authorized committee,” those limits kick in.
In summary, here’s how it worked: When Sen. Sorenson was recruited by the Bachmann presidential campaign, he made it clear he wanted to be paid. To get around the state ethics rules, the campaign funneled the payments through the consulting firm of Rep. Bachmann’s national political director, Guy Short. The consulting firm, C&M Strategies, received payments from both MichelePAC and from the presidential campaign. C&M Strategies then paid a company set up by Sen. Sorenson, Grassroots Strategy Inc. By examining the timing of payments between all the entities, the special investigator was able to determine certain payments to Sen. Sorenson could only have originated from MichelePAC. Among other things, the report notes C&M Strategies made nearly $16,000 worth of payments to Grassroots Strategy before July 29, 2011, the date C&M Strategies received its first payment from the presidential campaign.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) also investigated the alleged payments to Sen. Sorenson. OCE eventually recommended that the House Ethics Committee dismiss the matter because it was unclear how much Rep. Bachmann knew about the plan, an issue the Iowa report doesn’t wade into. OCE did refer the issue of the Sorenson payments to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and the House Ethics Committee can continue to pursue the matter if they wish. The new evidence in the Iowa report of illegal payments by the Bachmann campaign gives both entities good reason to continue their investigations. With every new revelation, it looks even more likely Rep. Bachmann broke the law. Now she needs to be held accountable.
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