The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee has voted to essentially table a complaint filed against a Republican senator for actions he’s alleged to have taken while he led Michele Bachmann’s Iowa presidential campaign.
A Florida man who worked on evangelical outreach for Bachmann’s campaign alleges State Senator Kent Sorenson stole a computerized contact list of homeschooling families in Iowa.
Senator Sandra Greiner, a Republican from Washington, Iowa, cautioned there’s an on-going investigation of those allegations, but no criminal charges have been filed and a civil lawsuit isn’t settled either.
“I think it’s really inappropriate for us as a committee to insert ourselves into any pending legal things that are going on outside of the Senate chamber,” Greiner said.
The other part of the complaint — also tabled today — alleges Sorenson was paid $7500 a month with money that originated in the Bachmann campaign fund, but was funnelled to a consulting firm that paid Sorenson to get around state senate rules which prohibit senators from getting paid to work on campaigns. Greiner and a majority of the committee said “unless and until” the Florida pastor supplies more information, the complaint ultimately will be dismissed.
“What we had in that packet was a bunch of fuzzy stuff and very few facts,” Greiner said. “…He cites anonymous sources that are willing to go under oath. It’s kind of difficult to put people under oath if they’re anonymous. We need to know who these people are and we need facts before we can do anything.”
Greiner told reporters after the meeting Sorenson is in a sort of “limbo” as the committee didn’t technically dismiss the complaint today, giving the man who filed the allegations time to supply more information.
Only one member of the Ethics Committee — Democratic Senator Joe Seng of Davenport — voted against tabling the complaint. Seng wanted to set up an independent investigation of the allegations.
“This is a very serious allegation, so I think more help we can get,” Seng told reporters after the meeting. “I hate to make a decision as a legislator, not having all the information.”
Senator Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone, made this declaration at the beginning of today’s Ethics Committee meeting: “We are in America and there is a presumption of innocence and 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 to, but the reality is, as a committee, I think it’s incumbent upon us to have that proof.”
Peter Waldron, the man who filed the complaint, told Radio Iowa the Ethics Committee made a “fair decision” about the part of the complaint that mentioned the alleged theft.
“Urbandale Police are conducting a thorough investigation,” Waldron said this afternoon. “I believe they will reach a conclusion based upon the evidence and the facts and so I believe it was in the best interests of the senate to defer investigative powers to the investigative authority — the police department.”
As for providing the committee with more information about the allegation that Senator Sorenson was paid with money that came from the campaign, Waldron said Bachmann got other campaign employees to sign agreements the prevent them from revealing what they know.
“I did not sign the non-disclosure agreement,” Waldron said. “My faith does not allow me to remain mute as a witness to a crime.”
Waldron said he read Scripture and prayed this afternoon as the Ethics Committee met, and he’s hoping other Bachmann campaign employees come forward to provide senators with the information the committee has decided it needs to proceed with an investigation of Sorenson.
“I’ll leave it to God and their own conscience to take the risk,” Waldron said. “I can’t push them into a risk.”
Sorenson did not attend today’s Ethics Committee meeting. He issued a written statement Monday, calling Waldron’s allegations “totally baseless, without evidence and a waste of Iowans’ time and money.”
AUDIO of Ethics Committee meeting (please note senators sometimes failed to turn on their microphones)