The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee decided on Wednesday not to take immediate action on two ethics charges filed against Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Milo). The six-member, bipartisan panel dismissed a third charge.
The complaints were filed by former Michele Bachmann presidential campaign staffer Peter Waldron. He accuses Sorenson of criminal behavior in the alleged theft of a database of Iowa homeschooling families’ contact information. Waldron also alleges that Sorenson received money from a presidential campaign or PAC, funneled through a third-party, in violation of Iowa Senate rules.
The Senate Ethics Committee did not feel they had enough evidence to rule on those charges at this time. There is an ongoing investigation by the Urbandale Police Department regarding the allegedly stolen database, as well as a lawsuit filed against Sorenson by Barb Heki, who kept the database on her computer.
“The issue is that we did not feel that it was appropriate for the Senate Ethics Committee to insert themselves into ongoing litigation,” said Sen. Sandy Greiner (R-Keota). “So, once that case is at rest, then I would anticipate that the committee will take another look at that.”
As for the issue in regards to Sorenson receiving payment for his role as Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman, the committee felt Peter Waldron did not provide enough evidence in the complaint. Until or unless he does that, Greiner says the case remains “in limbo”.
“We’re requesting that they give us more information,” she said. “If they don’t give us more information, apparently at some point in time, the committee will meet again to fully dismiss the charges.”
The third allegation, that Sorenson did not disclose the nature of each business he is involved in, was dismissed. Sorenson provided the Iowa Senate with a “statement of economic interests” on January 9, 2012, in which he lists “consulting” and “sales person” as his businesses.
Senator Sorenson did not attend the hearing. He later released a statement through the Iowa Senate Republicans:
“The Committee clearly saw that this charge was absolutely baseless on the face of it,” Sorenson said. “I am looking forward to this process being finalized and getting back to the work of the citizens of Iowa Senate District 13. This baseless distraction does not change the fact that we have Iowans out of work, a property tax system desperately in need of reform and Constitutional rights that we need to be fighting for.”
Although one of his complaints was dismissed, Peter Waldron told TheIowaRepublican.com he was pleased with the outcome of the hearing.
“I was encouraged,” Waldron said. “They could have just dismissed it all out of hand. They said they’re not going to dismiss it, but instead put it in a pending status. I thought it was fair. I will attempt to fulfill their request for more empirical evidence. Justice will prevail and I will continue my efforts.”
Senator Joe Seng (D-Davenport) case the lone dissenting vote on the committee regarding the two charges that are still pending. He wanted the committee to request that the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court appoint an independent special counsel to conduct an investigation into the complaint.
“This is a very serious allegation,” said Seng. “The more help we can get, I’d hate to make a decision as a legislator not having all the information forward, I think this would be the best avenue forward.”
Senator Greiner disagrees. “I think it’s too early to ask for an investigation because we don’t have the evidence to request that,” she said. “Once we have that evidence, if that evidence exists, then I think the committee will act.”
Both Senator Greiner and Senator Jerry Behn (R-Boone) made it a point to state that Senator Sorenson is innocent until proven guilty.
“The only point I’d like to make is that we are in America and there’s a presumption of innocence,” Behn said during the hearing. “I think it’s important that we all take into consideration that there needs to be proof of allegations. People can say what they want, but reality is as a committee, I think it’s incumbent on us to have that proof.”
Along with Behn, Greiner and Seng, the other members of the bipartisan ethics committee are Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids) and Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines).
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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