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February 12th, 2013

Understanding the Iowa Senate Ethics Process

By Craig Robinson

On Monday, reported that Peter Waldron, a former employee of Michele Bachmann’s failed presidential campaign, had filed a formal senate ethics complaint against State Senator Kent Sorenson on January 28th. Waldron has also filed a complaint a complaint against Bachmann’s campaign with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging campaign finance violations that include Sorenson.

In a statement, Sorenson denied any wrongdoing on Monday in his formal response to the State Senate Ethics Committee inquiry. Sorenson said, “I vehemently deny any wrongdoing as alleged. The false allegations are on their face absurd, and not really meritorious of response. However, I also accept my responsibilities as a Senator. My response is made precisely because I respect the obligations of Senate process.

The senate process that Sorenson speaks of isn’t all that well known, but is clearly stated in the senate ethics rules. In fact, while Sorenson’s response seems to simply blow off Waldron’s accusations, it should be known that the Senate Ethics Committee has also already found that the complaint complies with the requirements of this code of ethics and section 68B.31, subsection 6. Had the complaint not met those standards, Sorenson would not have been asked to respond.

In the press release that accompanied Sorenson’s official response to the Senate Ethics Committee, Sorenson not only attempted to discredit Waldron, but also the websites that published the complaint.

Over the last four years I have done my best to stand up for what I believe in at a personal cost to me and my family. I have also worked diligently to repay the trust the people of my district put in me when they overwhelmingly rejected similar politics of personal destruction from my last opponent. I am not a rich man; just an ordinary Iowan like my constituents. For example, my wife and I have been up until 3:00 a.m. every night for the past week comforting our children through a terrible bout of whooping cough. I mention this to point out why it’s hard to get people of principle and integrity to run for office. It’s stressful enough on a family with everyday problems, let alone these kinds of shenanigans that accomplish nothing other than to give baseless blogs more baseless content.

Sorenson’s attempt to discredit Waldron is to be expected, but resentment of “baseless blogs” using the complaint as more “baseless content” is simply juvenile and unbecoming of an elected official. It is a fact that a senate ethics complaint has been filed against Sorenson. It is also a fact his colleagues on the Senate Ethics Committee found that the complaint is in compliance with the code. The “baseless blog” he complains about only published and reported on the complaint. Whether he likes it or not, the complaint is newsworthy.

Once the Senate Ethics Committee found the complaint was in compliance with the code, it delivered the complaint promptly to Sorenson. At that point, Sorenson had ten days to produce a written response, which he did on Monday. Sorenson seems upset that the complaint was made public, but the rules state that the complaint is only confidential if the complaint is summarily dismissed or until the written response received from the respondent (Sorenson). Senate officials and the members of the Senate Ethics Committee kept it confidential, but the complainant (Waldron) made it public over the weekend, which he is allowed to do. The complaint would have become public on Monday regardless of Waldron’s decision to provide a copy of the complaint over the weekend. has learned that the Senate Ethics Committee is slated to meet at noon on Wednesday to determine what action, if any, should be taken following Sorenson’s response to the complaint.

Senate ethics rules spell out the process that the committee will take. The committee may do any of the following:

(a) Issue an admonishment to advise against the conduct that formed the basis for the complaint and to exercise care in the future.

(b) Issue an order to cease and desist the conduct that formed the basis for the complaint.

(c) Make a recommendation to the senate that the person subject to the complaint be censured or reprimanded.

(4) Request that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoint an independent special counsel to conduct an investigation of the complaint and supporting information, to make a determination of probable cause, and to report the findings to the committee, which shall be received within a reasonable time.

If the committee directs the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court to select an independent counsel, upon receipt of the report of independent special counsel’s findings, the committee shall schedule a public meeting to review the report and shall do either of the following:

(1) Cause the complaint to be scheduled for a public hearing.

(2) Dismiss the complaint based upon a determination by independent special counsel and the committee that insufficient evidence exists to support a finding of probable cause.

If the committee causes a complaint to be scheduled for a public hearing, both the respondent and complainant are notified in writing. The committee also possesses subpoena power, which allows them to mandate the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any books, records, correspondence, memoranda, papers, documents, or any other things it deems necessary to conduct the inquiry.

In Sorenson’s case, the committee could call the other consultants named in the complaint by Waldron to testify. It is also possible for the committee ask for Sorenson and the firms that are alleged to have compensated Sorenson on behalf of the Bachmann campaign to produce tax documents to prove whether or not the complaint has validity.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee then will determine its punishment. It can dismiss the complaint, censure or reprimand the senator, or hand down any other appropriate sanction, including suspension or expulsion from membership in the senate.

The process for a senate ethics complaint is pretty black and white. How far into the process the Sorenson complaint will go is anyone’s guess, but as things stand right now, it’s a “he said, she said” type argument that only creates more questions than answers. Ultimately it is up to the Senate Ethics Committee as to how much they want to investigate this manner. The “baseless blogs” don’t have anything to do with it.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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