DES MOINES — A former campaign aide for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claims the one-time presidential candidate hid thousands of dollars in payment to an Iowa state senator so he wouldn’t violate Senate ethics rules.
Peter Waldron served as national field coordinator for the Bachmann for President campaign from July 2011 to January 2012. In a notarized complaint to the Federal Election Commission, Waldron claims several violations of federal election laws by the campaign.
One pertains to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, who Waldron claims was paid $7,500 a month for his role as Iowa state chairman for the Bachmann campaign.
“I’m not talking about any of this,” Sorenson said when reached at his home Thursday afternoon. “I know nothing about how people were paid in the campaign.”
Asked if he was paid by the campaign, Sorenson responded, “No. This has been hashed out over the last year and a half. You can look at the articles. I stand by all my previous statements.”
Waldron claims the payments were funneled through a third party, C&M Strategies of Colorado operated by Guy Short. In essence, Waldron said, the Bachmann campaign would overpay C&M Strategies for its work and C&M Strategies would then cut a check to Sorenson for his work on behalf of the Bachmann campaign.
If true, the alleged scheme may violate the Senate ethics rule against state senators being employed by political campaigns.
The rule reads, in part, “A senator shall not accept employment, either directly or indirectly, from a political action committee or from an organization exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(4), 501(c)(6), or 527 of the Internal Revenue Code that engages in activities related to the nomination, election, or defeat of a candidate for public office.”
Violations of the ethics rules can result in reprimand or censure or “other appropriate sanction, including suspension or expulsion from membership in the senate.”
Sorenson left the Bachmann campaign and endorsed Ron Paul for president in late December 2011, just days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Bachmann, who months before won the Republican Straw Poll in Ames, came in a distant sixth place behind Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. She suspended her campaign shortly after and subsequently won re-election to her Minnesota congressional seat.
At the time of Sorenson’s defection, Bachmann sent out a news release claiming the Paul campaign paid Sorenson to jump ship. Sorenson denied the allegation.
“Then, all of a sudden, they stopped talking about it,” Waldron said during a telephone interview Thursday. “The reason is (the Bachmann campaign) knew that they were doing the same thing.”
Eric Woolson, who ran Bachmann’s Iowa effort from late October 2011 until it ended, referred inquiries on Waldron’s complaint to campaign finance chairman Jim Pollack. Pollack did not respond to an email sent to his account Thursday.
Waldron said he sent his complaint by certified mail to the FEC on Monday. The complaint hadn’t been logged at the FEC office on Thursday morning, according to officials there. Waldron provided a copy of the notarized complaint to the Times Des Moines Bureau Thursday.
Waldron claims he and others are still owed money by the Bachmann campaign. He said he likes Sorenson, but he felt “betrayed” when Sorenson left for the Paul campaign.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, worked on the Bachmann campaign. “I serve with Kent Sorenson (in the Iowa Senate). I would rather not comment,” he said when asked about Waldron’s complaint and a possible ethics violation.
Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said no ethics complaint against Sorenson has been brought to his attention and the committee wouldn’t hold an investigation in the absence of such a complaint, although the ethics code does allow the committee to, “upon its own motion, initiate a complaint, investigation, or disciplinary action.”
“We could talk about it, but until someone comes to us with a complaint, we have nothing to investigate,” Horn said.