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Iowa state senator allegedly sought payments to back Ron Paul in 2012

A well-known conservative state senator in Iowa who abruptly dropped his support for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in the 2012 presidential campaign and backed Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) just days before the Iowa caucuses allegedly sought payments from the Paul campaign in return for his endorsement, according to materials published this week.

State Sen. Kent Sorenson wanted to be paid $8,000 a month through the fall of 2012 and receive a $100,000 donation for his leadership PAC, according to an e-mail that one of his associates wrote on Oct. 29, 2011, to John Tate, Paul’s campaign manager. The e-mail was published by the conservative site and, the Web site of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

A few weeks later, a deputy campaign manager for Paul gave a $30,000 check to Sorenson’s wife, said Dennis Fusaro, a conservative activist and onetime Paul aide who went public with the allegations this week.

“I came forward because I thought it was wrong and damaging,” Fusaro told The Washington Post. “I don’t want Ron’s message being thwarted by these guys.”

He said that earlier this year he had urged Sorenson and Jesse Benton, who served as Paul’s campaign chairman, to reveal the payment.

Sorenson, Benton and other Paul campaign officials did not return calls seeking comment.

But Sorenson told that Fusaro fabricated the story and that he had never received a check.

Sorenson is the subject of an ethics investigation in Iowa over allegations that he was paid by Bachmann’s campaign, for which he served as Iowa chairman. Bachmann’s campaign also has come under scrutiny by multiple federal agencies looking into allegations of financial improprieties.

The state senator ended up dropping his support for Bachmann in late December 2011 and endorsed Paul, saying it was clear that she was no longer viable.

When he defected, Bachmann charged that he was being paid to flip to Paul.

“Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign,” Bachmann said in a statement at the time.

Sorenson, Paul and his campaign officials vigorously denied the charge.

“I was never offered a nickel from the Ron Paul campaign,” Sorenson told the Des Moines Register in December 2011.

Aaron Dorr, executive director of Iowa Gun Owners, indicated in his e-mails that he acted as Sorenson’s representative in the negotiations for a payment.

In the e-mails published this week, Dorr describes Sorenson’s conditions for switching his allegiance from Bachmann to Paul, writing that the state senator was “considering the offer that was first brought to his attention by a national campaign staffer.”

He indicated that Sorenson was being paid at the time by Bachmann’s campaign, writing: “KS needs to match his current salary of $8,000 a month. This has been promised to him, even after MB drops out of the race, for the majority of 2012.” Dorr also requested $100,000 for the Iowa Conservatives Fund PAC.

“The money for salary and the PAC needs to be paid in advance,” he wrote. “To be blunt, there is an issue of trust involved, likely on both sides, and as a result KS etc. needs to have the financial side met in advance.”

Two weeks later, Benton e-mailed Dorr to ask whether Sorenson would consider “joining our team,” according to the documents.

Benton, who is married to Paul’s granddaughter, is managing the reelection campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). A spokesman for the McConnell campaign did not return a request for comment.

On Wednesday, also posted a recording of a phone call between Fusaro and Sorenson that occurred shortly after the state senator endorsed Paul.

In the call, Sorenson tells Fusaro that Dimitri Kesari, Paul’s deputy national campaign manager, met him and his wife at a restaurant and then gave her a check while the state senator was in the bathroom.

Sorenson says on the call that he did not plan to cash it.

“Do you think I should hold on to it or do a deal? Should I hold on to it so I have something over [Kesari]?” he says.

“I don’t think I’d give it to him, no,” Fusaro responds, adding, “If you’re not doing his bidding, I don’t think he’s going to pay you.”

Later in the call, Fusaro suggests that Benton is aware of the deal.

“Oh, I know Jesse knows, I know Jesse knows,” Sorenson says.

The Web site also posted a July 21 e-mail Fusaro wrote to Benton that said, “You were involved . . . in the Sorenson deal.”

Benton responded quickly, writing: “You are an insane and delusional person, Dennis. I hope you get help. I’ll pray for you.”

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.

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