A special investigator appointed by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court will probe the evidence in two ethics charges filed against Senator Kent Sorenson. The bipartisan Iowa Senate Ethics Committee decided in a 4-2 vote to move the investigation forward. This is the first time in 15 years that an ethics complaint has been forwarded to the state’s Supreme Court.
A few hours prior to the ethics committee’s Wednesday afternoon meeting, Sen. Sorenson maintained his claim of innocence in a statement released to the media.
“I have done everything I can to prove my innocence and address the allegations initiated by politicos who have an axe to grind. This has become a witch-hunt and it is time to put it to rest,” Sorenson said.
Former Michele Bachmann presidential campaign staffer Peter Waldron filed the ethics complaints against Sorenson. The Republican senator from Milo served as the state chairman for Bachmann’s campaign.
Waldron, and former Congresswoman Bachmann Chief of Staff Andy Parrish, claim Sorenson was paid $7,500 per month, via a third party, for his role in the campaign. It is against Iowa Senate ethics rules to receive money from a presidential campaign.
Parrish’s attorney, John Gilmore, says his client will cooperate fully with the special investigator.
“Obviously my client’s recently submitted afﬁdavit in this matter was helpful to the committee in deciding what to do,” Gilmore said. “He has no interest one way or the other in the outcome of the investigation, just as he had no interest in the outcome of what the committee would decide to do today.”
Sorenson has also been accused of illegally accessing a database of homeschoolers that was on the computer of Bachmann campaign staffer Barb Heki. Former state campaign manager Eric Woolson swore in an affidavit that Sorenson admitted to him that he took part in the theft of the list. Heki has filed a lawsuit against Sorenson, Congresswoman Bachmann, and others, as well as a report with the Urbandale Police Department in relation to the alleged theft. Those cases are ongoing.
During the ethics committee hearing, Sen. Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines) made the motion to send the case of a special investigator. Sen. Joe Seng (D-Davenport) seconded it.
“If this would have been some Democrats making these charges and it looked like it was extremely partisan, I would’ve said I’m not wanting a special investigator, that this sounds like a little bit of a witch-hunt or there’s people messing with him. But these are reliable people in the Republican Party,” Dearden said. “These people are putting their reputations on the line to make these.”
Senator Sandy Greiner (R-Keota) also argued in favor of sending the case to a special investigator, in part because she felt the evidence Sorenson provided to support his claim of innocence was insufficient.
Senator Sorenson submitted five affidavits to the committee Wednesday morning. One was a statement from attorney Cherie Johnson, who swore she had reviewed a Wells Fargo bank account belonging to Sorenson and found no deposits in the amount of $7,500 or any payments from Guy Short or C&M Strategies, the third party that was alleging paying Sorenson. Senator Greiner scoffed at the notion that records from just one bank account prove or disprove anything.
“We have no idea how many checking accounts the man has. I have more than one. I assume he does as well,” Greiner said. “So, that’s a grey area out there for me. It’s not clear. Had I been sitting in his chair with the same allegations brought against me, I would have submitted my income tax statement because that would have been pretty clear what happened. But that didn’t happen. So for that reason, I frankly have no problem moving forward with asking for an investigation.”
The other two Republicans on the committee, Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny and Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone both voted against moving the charges forward.
“The problem is we’re in a grey area,” Whitver said. “It’s hard to dismiss these charges because they’re serious charges, but there’s also very, very little evidence to send it forward. So, what do we do? I don’t know. The concern is, we’re setting a very, very low bar to send these cases forward.”
Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids), the chairman of the senate ethics committee, countered Whitver’s statement by noting the necessity to protect Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucus status. Horn said it would look like the senate ethics committee was covering up for one of their own if the charges were simply dropped.
“I kind of look at it that we’re setting the bar higher because we’re first in the nation and we want Iowa politics as clean as it can possibly be,” Horn said.
Before taking the vote to send the case to a special investigator, both Senator Greiner and Senator Dearden said they hoped Kent Sorenson would be found not guilty of any ethics violations.
“I hope that investigator comes back and says he’s as pure as the driven snow,” Greiner added. “That’s what I want. But there’s going to be a cloud over this entire chamber if we don’t attempt to get to the bottom of this.”
There was a development late Wednesday night when the Iowa Senate Republican leadership sent the media a corrected version of the affidavit from Chris Dorr. The one they sent Wednesday morning prior to the hearing was missing part of his sworn testimony. Chris Dorr is Sorenson’s legislative clerk. He also worked on the Bachmann campaign.
In the complete affidavit, Dorr admits to downloading a contact list from Heki’s computer and that this may have been the NICHE list, but he is not sure. Dorr also claimed there were various times he would receive contact information from Heki for homeschoolers around the state, and she would provide this in handwritten form by looking at a list on her computer.
Heki maintains that she never used the NICHE list for such purposes. She also believes the affidavits Senator Sorenson provided to the ethics committee will help her lawsuit.
Shortly after the Bachmann campaign’s illegal use of the NICHE database, Barb Heki and her husband Rich were dismissed from the homeschooling organization’s board of directors, which they had served on for more than a decade. Heki claims was blamed for the campaign’s use of the list, but was told on the final day of the presidential campaign by Michele Bachmann that Kent Sorenson had taken the list off her computer.
Here is the complete statement Barb Heki provided to TheIowaRepublican.com:
“Today’s sworn affidavits from Chris Dorr, Wes Enos and Tony Eastman in defense of their close friend Kent Sorenson were welcome news. Although filled with a number of patently false statements, we finally have, after 18 months of investigating the theft, a confession, including statements by others that denote first-hand knowledge of the crime that has received heavy news coverage.
Rich and I are grateful that Mr. Dorr has finally stepped forward in his admission, accompanied by additional admissions by others of knowledge of the crime that they previously had denied for a year and a half, until today.
This public disclosure is a significant milestone. The false statements made about my computer interactions with others are already negated by other testimony and evidence. Further, anyone who infers that I ever gave anyone my personal computer for any reason, or used my personal file of the homeschool database to give information to anyone at any time, or that it was easily available to others, or unknown to them that it was off limits, needs to consider the consequences of perjury, as those are outright fabrications.
Rich and I have complete confidence in the numerous investigative agencies that are currently involved in this situation and we are hopeful that the truth will continue to unveil and justice be served.”
You can view Christopher Dorr’s complete affidavit below:
Photo by Dave Davidson
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