McConnell campaign manager allegedly ‘holding his nose’ to get through gig

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Jesse Benton, the longtime aide to Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul, allegedly said in January that he was “holding his nose” to get through his latest gig as campaign manager for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election.

“Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so, that’s my long vision,” a voice, allegedly Benton’s, says in the recording published by Economic Policy Journal on Thursday.

According to Economic Policy Journal, the recording is of a January 9, 2013 call between Dennis Fusaro and Benton.

In a statement, Benton lashed out at Fusaro for making the recording public.

“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. “I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014.” (RELATED: Mitch McConnell releases photo joking about ‘NoseGate’)

Reached for comment by phone, Fusaro, who was an aide to Paul’s 2008 campaign, confirmed the date of the call and the participants on the call. He said he had recorded it — noting that doing so was legal, since he was in Virginia at the time and Benton was in Kentucky, both states where, by law, only one party needs to consent to record a phone call.

Fusaro said he released the recording because he was upset with Benton’s wheeling and dealing with 2012 Iowa endorsements. Emails obtained by OpenSecrets.org appear to reveal an alleged $30,000 campaign donation made to Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson to convince him to switch his support in the 2012 Republican presidential primary from Rep. Michele Bachmann to Rep. Ron Paul.

“I gave him six months to get to the bottom of it and fix the problem and he didn’t do it,” Fusaro said, asked why he had released the recording. He also provided emails on the subject to OpenSecrets.org.

“I think it’s indicative of his approach to politics, his methodology, that it’s all a big game, and it’s not about principle, it’s about playing these games,” Fusaro said.

McConnell’s primary opponent, Matt Bevin, took a stab at McConnell over the comments.

“Even Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign,” said Sarah Durand of Bevin’s campaign in a statement.

The comments, she said, “shows that even McConnell’s top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative, and after nearly 30 years of voting for big-government and big-spending bills, does not deserve to be reelected.”

Benton signed on to manage McConnell’s re-election campaign in late 2012. The senior and junior Senators from Kentucky are not seen as ideologically in the same camp: Paul is held up as a representative of the more libertarian and tea party strains of the Republican Party, while McConnell, the highest ranking Republican in the Senate, is often portrayed as the establishment candidate. The McConnell campaign has been working to bridge that divide, and Paul has come out in support of McConnell.

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