On Thursday, a recording was released of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton saying he was “holding [his] nose” to get through the gig. But the man who recorded the call and subsequently released the recording had little interest in Benton’s slight.
The backstory takes place in Iowa, and involves two presidential candidates, a state senator, and an alleged payment in exchange for support.
In 2011, when the presidential primary was in full swing and the field of Republican candidates was fiercely vying for the support of Iowa Republicans, the state that would hold the first nominating contests in the country, state senator Kent Sorenson was serving as the campaign chair of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign. In December of 2011, Sorenson changed his allegiances and endorsed Rep. Ron Paul.
All kinds of bad behavior allegedly surrounded Sorenson and his employment. Bachmann is current being investigated by the congressional Ethics Committee over the accusation that funds from her PAC were improperly used to pay presidential campaign staff, including Sorenson. Last month, the Ethics Committee announced that it was extending the investigation.
The improper payments are a particular problem in Sorenson’s case, because under Iowa law, state legislators are not permitted to accept payment from campaigns. As a result, the Iowa Supreme Court has appointed a special investigator to investigate Sorenson. The state senator also allegedly illegally accessed a database containing a list of homeschoolers that was on the computer of a campaign staffer for Bachmann.
Dennis Fusaro, the man who leaked the recording to Economic Policy Journal, opted to do so was because of the money allegedly provided to Sorenson in exchange for coming over to the Paul campaign. He alleges that Sorenson was given a “$30,000 check from a non-campaign account” by a member of Paul’s campaign to convince him to change. Fusaro worked on Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign and is currently the vice president for development of the Reformed Theological Seminary.
According to documents first published by The Iowa Republican, and provided by Fusaro, Sorenson had discussions with the Paul campaign about changing teams that included a request for compensation.
The memo, addressed to John Tate, the campaign manager for Paul’s 2012 presidential run, says that Sorenson “is considering the offer,” but that, “ the following financial requirements are things that he’d be giving up and would need to have matched if he left MB [Michele Bachmann].”
The requirements include an $8,000 monthly salary continuing through Fall of 2012; a $5,000 monthly salary through April of 2012 for Chris Dorr, Sorenson’s legislative clerk who was working with him on the Bachmann campaign; and a $100,000 donation to Sorenson’s PAC. In exchange, Sorenson would endorse and use his clout to help elect Paul. The memo also says the Paul campaign would get “the list of the main Iowa home-school group here.”
Emails provided to The Iowa Republican show Benton reaching out to Sorenson through an intermediary to help negotiation his defection from the Bachmann campaign.
In January, Fusaro called Benton and asked him if he was aware of the alleged payments to Sorenson. Fusaro recorded the call. Benton said he was not aware of the payments, but said that if Fusaro provided him with proof, he would “take action.”
Three weeks ago, the two had a contentious email exchange. Fusaro accused Benton of being involved in the deal, and Benton replied: ““You are an insane and delusional person, Dennis. I hope you get help. I’ll pray for you.”
Fusaro said he opted to release the recording, the memos and the emails because Benton had not made good on his promise of taking action.
“I gave him six months to get to the bottom of it and fix the problem, and he didn’t,” Fusaro told The Daily Caller Thursday afternoon.
Benton is now the campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign.
In a statement Thursday, he attacked Fusaro for recording the phone call and then leaking the recording.
“It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me,” he said.