Mitch McConnell’s having a rough week. His campaign manager, who all but disappeared earlier this summer, is tied to an endorsement-buying scheme in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, and audio of Mitch’s closed-door address to the Billionaires of America club at the Father’s Day Koch Retreat was leaked to the public for all to hear.
If you missed the cash-for-endorsement story, Maddow covered it in depth last night — Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign paid a State Senator, Kent Sorenson, for his endorsement, an effort that appears to be spearheaded by and certainly entangles McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton. That State Senator yesterday plead guilty to related charges:
Jesse Benton has had a very quiet summer, surprising for a guy serving as campaign manager for McConnell in the most expensive Senate race in US history, and perhaps this guilty plea explains Benton’s absence.
Yesterday’s proceedings did not indicate who had arranged the payment, but, as the Washington Post reports, there are clues:
The court filings did not identify the Paul operative, but in a recording of a phone call posted last year by TheIowaRepublican.com, Sorenson identified him as Dimitri Kesari, then Paul’s deputy national campaign manager. TheIowaRepublican.com and OpenSecrets.org, the Web site of the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, also reported last year on emails in which representatives of Paul and Sorenson allegedly discussed his demands for payment.
Paul’s campaign chairman at the time was Jesse Benton, who is now running the re-election bid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
What’s interesting here is that Benton isn’t McConnell’s only tie to the Sorenson guilty plea — Dimitri Kesari has also been on the McConnell payroll, as OpenSecrets reported last year:
The campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hired a former Ron Paul campaign aide accused of trying to buy the endorsement of an Iowa state senator in 2012, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The aide, Dimitri Kesari, was also implicated in allegations made last week by a former National Right to Work Committee employee who says the politically active nonprofit broke Iowa state campaign finance rules and misled the Internal Revenue Service about its political activity.
An OpenSecrets.org review of FEC filings made by McConnell’s campaign found that it has paid a company called Hyllus Corp. $61,954 so far in 2013. There were four payments, all of which list “strategic consulting” as the service being purchased. The most recent check went out July 19.
….Besides the $61,954 paid by the McConnell campaign, the senator’s leadership PAC, Bluegrass Committee, also paid Hyllus $10,145 on Feb. 19 — the same day the campaign paid the firm $7,102.
Kesari, Paul’s deputy campaign manager, delivered a check to the guilty pleading Sorenson, and emails indicate that Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, was involved in negotiating with Sorenson for the endorsement — and both later worked for McConnell, with Benton, apparently, still in charge of McConnell’s campaign.
It will be interesting to see what happens next for McConnell and Benton, and in Iowa. Coupled with unfolding events in Wisconsin, where the Club for Growth was engaged in questionable political activities endeavored hand-in-hand with Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign, the unending nonsense in New Jersey with Chris Christie, and the charming case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — the Republican mid-term hopes could be descending quickly into a “culture of corruption” October storyline.
The Iowa doings of Kesari, Benton and Sorenson are potentially even more interesting when one considers that Kesari is a former employee of the non-profit anti-union group the National Right to Work Committee, which is under scrutiny of its own for its political activities, allegedly running off-the-books direct mail campaigns [link].
Kesari worked at National Right to Work alongside Doug Stafford — and while at NRWC, Doug Stafford was hired to work on Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign and is now widely considered to be Rand Paul’s top political advisor and is the head of Paul’s exploratory “50-State Campaign” prepping Rand’s presidential run [link].
Stafford’s wife is on the McConnell campaign’s payroll:
According to reports filed by McConnell’s campaign, Elizabeth Stafford has been paid a total of $30,000 so far this year for fundraising consulting. Stafford is the wife of Doug Stafford, the executive director of Reinventing A New Direction PAC (RAND PAC), Paul’s leadership PAC. The only other payments made by a federal campaign or political committee to Elizabeth Stafford were two checks from RAND PAC totaling $5,500.
In that other news — if you haven’t heard Mitch McConnell’s Koch audio, you’ll want to give it a listen. In a political world in which a host of well-funded “independent” conservative groups are popping up to push the campaigns and funnel money into helping Republicans like McConnell, Walker and others (for instance, one of the founding directors of the McConnell Dark Money group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is the current state director for Rand Paul), much of that money is circling around (or at least near) the Koch’s and their shady allies.
Sonka has the breakdown on McConnell’s speech at InsiderLouisville and it’s worth the read if you haven’t yet. Here’s a taste:
“The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law in the early part of his first Administration,” said McConnell.
Commentators have noted that McConnell’s tenure in the Senate has included two government shutdowns, multiple wars, the 9/11 attacks, and the financial collapse of 2008. Regarding the latter, McConnell said at the time that the passage of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout for firms directly implicated in the crash was “the Senate at its finest.”
In other words, legislation limiting political spending by the wealthy was his worst day in the Senate, and legislation giving a $700 billion handout to the wealthy was his finest day in the Senate.
In the secretly recorded speech, McConnell profusely praises the Kochs, from whom he’s directly taken tens of thousands of dollars (not to mention indirect aid) and goes on to blast efforts to raise the minimum wage or help the long-term unemployed, or well, here:
“We’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. All we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible), extending unemployment. The student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.”
The McConnell campaign has tried hard to pretend the leaked audio simply represents McConnell’s usual stump speech, but when reporters tried to talk to him about it, Mitch just ran away:
If you’ve missed that audio in full, here it is: