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July 31st, 2012
 

Former Staffer Sues Bachmann, Sorenson Over NICHE List Misuse

Former Michele Bachmann presidential campaign staffer Barb Heki filed a lawsuit Monday against the Minnesota congresswoman, Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson, and several members of Bachmann’s senior campaign staff. The suit, submitted in Polk County district court, deals with the misuse of a statewide list of emails and phone numbers for homeschooling families. The Bachmann campaign illegally used the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE) list in November, sending two mass emails to the group’s members.

Heki was Bachmann’s homeschool coalition director. She and her husband Richard, who is a co-plaintiff, also served on the NICHE board of directors. NICHE strictly forbids use of its list for political purposes. Shortly after the use of the list by the Bachmann campaign was discovered, the Hekis were removed from the NICHE board.

However, Barb Heki alleges Sorenson, Bachmann’s Iowa chairman, stole the list off her personal computer and the campaign made her the scapegoat when news of the situation was made public. The story was reported first here on TheIowaRepublican.com.

“The one thing I can tell you is that I have first-hand witnesses to Kent confessing that he stole the database,” Barb Heki tells TheIowaRepublican.com.

Along with Bachmann and Sorenson, longtime Iowa strategist Eric Woolson and top national campaign staffers Keith Nahigian, Guy Short, Brett O’Donnell, and Rebecca Donatelli are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“Everybody on that list was either proactively covering it up or had first hand knowledge and chose to let me be the fall guy and let the false stories reign the day,” Heki says.

Shortly after the NICHE list was illegally used, President Justin LaVan sent an email to the group’s members that said, “We have been assured by the Bachmann Campaign that it was inadvertent.”

Barb Heki says she found out on January 4, the day after the Iowa Caucus, that the campaign’s use of the list was deliberate. The news came from a surprising source.

“Michele (Bachmann) told me,” Heki said. “We had a private staff luncheon right after she left the race and she came up to me then and told me that she was told that Kent did it. I was flabbergasted. When Michele and I got done talking, I walked straight over to Eric Woolson and asked him if it was true. He said, “Yes.”

The NICHE list would be an extremely valuable tool for any Iowa Republican candidate. Many of the organization’s thousands of members are politically active and because the children are homeschooled, the families are able to spend a lot of time volunteering for campaigns. Heki and her family helped with the movement to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices in 2010. She previously volunteered on Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial and Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaigns.

Barb Heki states in her lawsuit that she told Sorenson when she was hired by the Bachmann campaign that she would not be able to use the NICHE list. She also has a witness to her charges against Sorenson and the Bachmann campaign.

“I certainly can attest that I was in the office and I was aware that the list was taken,” a senior Bachmann campaign aide, who asked that their name be withheld, tells TheIowaRepublican.com. “I can attest to the fact that Kent Sorenson was part of the process of removing the list.”

The source adds that the people in charge of Bachmann’s national campaign were aware of the situation and conducted a serious internal debate about how to handle it.

“I am confident that Kent Sorenson participated in the theft and I am confident that members of the senior staff were aware of it, certainly on or before December,” the former Bachmann aide said. “And they debated it for three weeks, the senior staff, what to do. Over loud objections, they let Barb take the fall for it.”

Barb Heki says that her personal and professional life has suffered serious damage as a result of the NICHE list controversy. Along with being removed from the NICHE board of directors after an 11-year tenure, the Hekis were ousted from a national organization of homeschooling leaders in which they were actively involved.

“It’s been horrible,” Barb Heki said. “I can’t even describe how horrible it’s been, when your name is maligned as a thief nationwide, your whole world is collapsing. There isn’t any waking moment when my bad reputation isn’t on my mind. It’s horrible. It’s affected our whole family.”

The Hekis requested a jury trial in the lawsuit. They did not specify how much they are seeking in damages.

“She’s an honorable woman,” our Bachmann campaign source says. “She has nothing but the best intentions. She has a good heart and she’s a hard worker. To be mistreated like this, I think is despicable.”

Barb Heki remained with the Bachmann campaign through the Iowa Caucuses. Kent Sorenson resigned as Bachmann’s state chairman one week before the caucuses to join Ron Paul’s campaign. Bachmann, Eric Woolson and Susan Geddes, Sorenson’s former senate campaign director, all claimed Sorenson told them he was being offered a lot of money to defect to Ron Paul’s team. Sorenson repeatedly denied money was involved.

Despite winning the Ames Straw Poll in August, Bachmann finished a disappointing sixth in the Iowa Caucus. Attempts to reach Kent Sorenson for comment on this story were unsuccessful. However, he told Politico that the charges alleged by Barb Heki “absolutely did not happen”.

You can read the lawsuit by clicking here.

Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography


About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for TheIowaRepublican.com.




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