April 23, 2014

UPDATE: Senator Kent Sorenson resigns, fellow GOP senator says Sorenson’s “integrity…compromised”

A Republican state senator has resigned after the release of a special investigator’s report about the senator’s alleged financial dealings during the Iowa Caucuses.

The lawyer appointed to investigate ethics complaints against State Senator Kent Sorenson concluded it was “manifestly clear” Sorenson received money for his role as chairman of Michele Bachmann’s 2012 Iowa Caucus campaign. Plus, the investigator said there is probable cause to charge Sorenson with felonious misconduct in office for lying about the money. Senate Ethics Rules forbid senators from receiving money “directly or indirectly” for work on presidential campaigns.

Shortly after the investigator’s report was made public Wednesday afternoon, Sorenson resigned from the senate. Sorenson sent an email to supporters early Wednesday evening saying he “did not do anything illegal” or “immoral.” Sorenson accused his attackers of a “witch hunt” and said he was resigning because of the financial drain of mounting a defense. Sorenson also said the investigation had been “rigged” against him because of his public opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling.  (Read Sorenson’s email here.)

The special investigator, who was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, concluded “the evidence is clear” that Sorenson knew he was breaking senate ethics rules. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, was among the first of Sorenson’s colleagues to suggest weeks ago that Sorenson should resign if the charges could be proven.

“I do not believe that the investigator’s integrity is at question here. Only Senator Sorenson’s integrity is at question,” Chelgren told Radio Iowa this evening.”…I believe there is enough evidence that says that Senator Sorenson’s integrity has been compromised, that the decision to resign seems to be the correct one.”

Senator Jack Whitver of Ankeny is one of the Republicans on the Senate Ethics Committee.

“I think the whole situation is unfortunate, but I do think that Kent is making the right decision for his family, himself and the institution of the senate to resign,” Whitver said during an interview this evening with Radio Iowa.

Senator Joe Seng, a Democrat from Davenport who is a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, said it wouldn’t have been easy for senators if Sorenson had stayed in the senate.

“I’m glad that it went the way that it did,” Seng told Radio Iowa.

Senator Wally Horn, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the panel will likely meet on Monday to review the investigator’s report.

“We have to do something, I think, for closure,” Horn said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “What that is, I don’t know right now. I don’t think you just quit and let it dangle out there. You have to have closure.”

Horn wouldn’t speculate as to whether the committee would forward the investigator’s report to the attorney general, for possible criminal charges against Sorenson. Earlier this year, when the committee voted to launch the investigation, Horn said the move was made to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s Caucuses.

“We did not want to cover up anything. We wanted it out in the open,” Horn says. “It’s out in the open and I think that everything is, at this point, understood that Iowa is squeaky clean, even though once in a while we have a problem.”

Sorenson also had been accused of stealing a politically valuable list of Iowa parents who homeschool their children,  but the special prosecutor concluded Sorenson was not directly involved in that matter. Bachmann recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the woman who had maintained the homeschoolers’ contact list and had filed a lawsuit against Bachmann’s campaign.