Earlier this year when Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign, was caught on tape saying that he is “holding his nose” working for the highest-ranking Republican in the United States Senate, McConnell handled the situation like a pro.
McConnell defused the incident quickly by posing for a picture with Benton that showed him holding his nose. Just like that, the story was over. The odd political marriage between the establishment power broker in the Senate and the anti-establishment campaign operative with deep connections to Ron and Rand Paul continued on as if nothing ever happened.
As is often the case in politics, getting the story off the front page of the newspaper is an important first step, but if you don’t deal with the situation, it could come back to haunt you. Behind the scenes, McConnell was probably livid with Benton, but the political marriage between the two makes too much sense to end the relationship over a recorded phone call. McConnell needs help against a well-funded primary opponent, and as Benton said in the embarrassing recording, “What we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand [Paul] in 16, so, that’s my long vision.”
McConnell may believe that Benton and his libertarian-leaning connections would help him skate through a pesky primary, but it now appears that letting Benton run his re-election effort in Kentucky could prove to be a major mistake.
Last summer, TheIowaRepublican.com broke the story that showed that Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson was compensated by the Ron Paul campaign before switching his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul just days before the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. The special investigation that followed the news provided proof that Ron Paul’s Deputy National Campaign Manager, Dimitri Kesari, gave Sorenson a check for $25,000 in late December. TheIowaRepublican.com’s investigation also provided ample proof that Benton was directly involved in the campaign’s dealings with Sorenson.
On Wednesday, the Des Moines Register reported that the FBI raided Sorenson’s Warren County home south of Des Moines. Sorenson’s attorney told the paper, “They took computers and things that would be used to verify or validate communications with presidential entities.” His attorney also indicated that they were not notified that Sorenson was the target of the investigation. The FBI’s press office has referred all media inquiries to the Justice Department.
Sorenson, who resigned his state senate seat earlier this fall, may have some state legal issues to deal with in the future, but his involvement with the Paul and or Bachmann campaign would not likely get him in trouble with federal authorities. The likely targets of the federal investigation are probably Kesari and Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.
If that’s the case, it’s bad news for McConnell, who, besides employing Benton to manage his campaign, is also paying Kesari as a political consultant.
Last week, OpenSecrets.org reported that the McConnell campaign has paid $61,954 thus far in 2013 to Hyllus Corp for strategic consulting. The name Hyllus is of Greek origin, which means son of Hercules. Hyllus was also paid an additional $10,145 by McConnell’s leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee. According to OpenSecrets.org, McConnell sent payments to Hyllus Corp at the same Washington, D.C., PO Box that Right to Work used to pay Kesari, who used to work for that group.
It seems very plausible that two McConnell campaign aides are now under investigation for their roles in the shady dealings that they orchestrated under the employ of Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. While McConnell was able to deal with Benton’s insulting remark by posing for a funny picture, the media will likely have some actual questions for McConnell since the FBI is now involved.
Kesari was the central figure in a pay-to-play scheme that ultimately cost Sorenson his state senate seat and could cause him additional legal and professional problems. The special investigator appointed by the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court to look into Sorenson’s dealings with the Bachmann and Paul campaign found that Sorenson received a check payable to “Grass Roots Strategies” in the amount of $25,000. Sorenson is the owner and sole employee of Grass Roots Strategies.
The check was dated December 26, 2011, and drawn on the account of Designer Goldsmiths Inc., which is a jewelry store located in Leesburg, Virginia, operated by Jolanda Kesari, who is Demitri Kesari’s wife. Not only did Sorenson violate Iowa Senate ethic rules by accepting the payment, but Kesari broke numerous laws by paying Sorenson with funds not associated with the Paul campaign.
More troubling is that the special investigator also found that Sorenson was paid $73,000 from an entity named ITC Inc., a Maryland firm. The special investigator wrote in his report that, “The deposits could be construed to reflect payments of $8,000 per month from February through July 2012, with the first payment $33,000 being an $8,000 monthly payment and $25,000 to reflect the uncashed check.”
ICT is a business associated with a documentary filmmaker named Noel “Sonny” Izon. When asked in his deposition what he did for ICT, Sorenson said, “general consulting both on political and business issues.” Sorenson also said that he helped ICT with “locations for video shoots in Iowa.” He said ICT had, “a lot of clients,” but he could identify none. He also could not remember the correct name of the “Sonny” associated with ICT.
It seems likely that federal authorities are now investigating the money trail used by Kesari and the Ron Paul presidential campaign for their clandestine activities. That’s not good for Benton, Kesari, the Paul political operations, or Mitch McConnell.
McConnell should have ditched Benton when it became known that Benton couldn’t stand the guy who signs his paycheck. Now he’s going to have to deal with the ramifications of hiring unscrupulous individuals to work for his campaign. If McConnell thought hiring Rand and Ron Paul’s political team was a savvy move, I bet he’s regretting it now.