Head of Rand Paul Super-PAC Indicted for Bribery
The head of presidential candidate Rand Paul’s Super-PAC fund and two others were indicted Wednesday for allegedly bribing a Senator to endorse Ron Paul for president back in 2011.
The FBI charged Jesse Benton, a long-time confidant of the Paul family, former Ron Paul Campaign Manager John Tate, and former Deputy Campaign Manager Dimitrios Kesari all with arranging a payment of US$70,000 to former Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson in 2011.
In exchange, Sen. Sorenson would switch his endorsement from Michele Bachmann to the elder Paul.
“When the Republican establishment is going to be coming after Ron Paul, I thought it is my duty to come to his aid,” Sen. Sorenson explained in making the switch. “We have an opportunity to vote for a conservative, someone who holds our values dear.”
The Bachmann campaign immediately claimed Sen. Sorenson had “sold out” for a “large sum of money” to make the switch. Iowa political insider Susan Geddes, who managed Sorenson’s 2008 and 2010 campaigns, claimed Sorenson told her on several occasions that the Paul campaign was offering a lot of money to get him to switch.
Sen. Sorensen denied the claims at the time; Benton charged the Bachmann campaign with “slander.”
According to the FBI indictment, the three men allegedly transferred payments to Sen. Sorenson by recording the expenses in Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings as audiovisual-related purchases that first passed through a production company before getting transferred to an account controlled by Sen. Sorenson.
Sorenson pleaded guilty to contributing to false FEC reports and obstruction of justice in 2014. When the allegations first surfaced last year, Benton resigned from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign.
Benton, 37, is married to Rand Paul’s niece, who is also Ron Paul’s granddaughter. He has been seen as a rising star in Republican politics due to his deep roots in grassroots conservative and libertarian politics.
Benton runs America’s Liberty PAC, which is one of three pro-Rand Paul Super-PACs. It is valued at more than US$3 million.
The Paul campaign has not commented on the indictment. In a statement, Ron Paul questioned the timing of the indictment, and suggested it was done to sabotage his son’s presidential ambitions.
Another Benton client, Kentucky state Rep. Mike Harmon, said Benton called him Wednesday afternoon and told him Paul has his back.
“He said Rand is standing with him and some of his other clients would be standing with him,” Harmon said.
Benton is managing Harmon’s campaign for state auditor, and Harmon said he’s going to take 24 hours to decide whether to keep him on staff. “I’m going to think about it and pray about it,” he said. Harmon said Benton told him he intends to ask for an “expedient review” of the charges against him and potentially dispense with the matter within the next two months.