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McConnell Campaign Manager Resigns Amid Investigation Into 2012 Iowa Bribery Scandal

Mitch McConnell Jesse Benton

The re-election campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was sent into something of a shock yesterday thanks to the sudden and somewhat unexpected announcement that Jesse Benton, who was managing his re-election and had manged Rand Paul’s 2010 campaign and Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaign, was resigning amid questions raised by a bribery scandal still unfolding in Iowa, was stepping aside with less than nine weeks to go until Election Day:

Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will resign his post as a bribery scandal from the 2012 presidential campaign threatens to envelop Benton and become a major distraction for McConnell’s campaign.

Benton told the Herald-Leader that he met with McConnell on Friday afternoon and offered his resignation, which McConnell “reluctantly accepted.”

Benton said he offered his resignation, effective Saturday, with a “heavy heart.”

He maintained his innocence, faulting “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors.”

“This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country,” Benton said.

(….)

a statement provided first to the Herald-Leader, Benton said there “is no more important cause for both Kentucky, my new home I have come to love, and our country than electing Mitch McConnell Majority Leader of the United States Senate.”

“I believe this deep in my bones, and I would never allow anything or anyone to get in the way,” Benton wrote. “That includes myself.”

Benton said in his statement that “there have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”

But Benton said he found it more “troubling” that the rumors “risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this re-election campaign.”

“Working for Mitch McConnell is one of the great honors of my life,” Benton said. “He is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs. I cannot, and will not, allow any possibility that my circumstances will affect the voters’ ability to hear his message and assess his record. This election is far too important and the stakes way too high.”

It was unclear Friday evening what effect Benton’s resignation and the circumstances surrounding it might have on McConnell’s campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is Kentucky’s secretary of state.

Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said the resignation probably won’t have any immediate impact on McConnell’s campaign organization since Benton has played a less visible role than McConnell’s senior adviser, Josh Holmes, in recent months.

“Benton already served his role of helping McConnell appeal to the conservative base during the party primary, and a lot of campaign responsibilities had already passed from his shoulders,” Voss said.

“The problem with the scandal is the negative attention it brings to the McConnell campaign, which will come regardless of whether it turns out Benton really did anything wrong,” Voss said. “Any whiff of scandal within a campaign organization can bring criticism, because opponents suggest that it reflects on the judgment of the candidate who appointed the individual.”

I tend to agree that this incident is unlikely to have that much of an impact on McConnell’s campaign going forward. To a large degree, hiring Benton as his campaign manager was obviously a move by McConnell to forge an alliance with Kentucky’s junior Senator. In addition to managing Paul’s Senate campaign and both of his father’s recent Presidential campaigns, Benton is also married to Valori Payett, who happens to be Ron Paul’s granddaughter and Senator Paul’s niece. Given all of that, it has never been clear just how much Benton was actually running the campaign on his own, and how much he was basically just there as a figurehead. Indeed, this isn’t the first time Benton has gotten in trouble since going to work for McConnell; last year he was forced to deal with the public revelation of private comments he made that were quite critical of his boss. The allegations out of Iowa, which I’ll discuss in a bit more detail below, may have just been the last straw. In any case, McConnell seems to have moved quickly in naming senior adviser Josh Holmes as his new campaign manager.

 

The allegations that led to Benton’s resignation, meanwhile, involve a scandal in Iowa that is still unfolding. At its heart, it involves a Republican State Senator in the Hawkeye State who famously switched his allegiance from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses in 2012. At the time, and in the years that have followed there have been allegations of bribery and other illegal activities directed at both the Paul and Bachman campaigns. Earlier this week, the former State Senator in question, Kent Sorenson plead guilty to charges that he concealed payments from Paul’s campaign that coincided with his shift in endorsements.  By all accounts, this plea is in exchange for Sorenson’s cooperation in the ongoing Federal Grand Jury investigations which, according to Open Secrets, involve two separate Grand Juries aimed at the Bachmann and Paul campaign’s respectively. As the overall chairman of the Paul campaign in 2012, Benton would seem to be a natural person of interest in such an investigation, although it’s worth noting that nobody has made any allegation that either he or anyone involved in the national campaign was involved in anything that went on prior to Sorenson’s shift in loyalty. No doubt, though, the questions circling around the campaign were becoming a potential embarrassment for McConnell.

Where the Iowa investigation leads is hard to tell, but it seems likely that there will be more indictments to come. Stay tuned.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    “To a large degree, hiring Benton as his campaign manager was obviously a move by McConnell to forge an alliance with Kentucky’s junior Senator. In addition to managing Paul’s Senate campaign and both of his father’s recent Presidential campaigns, Benton is also married to Valori Payett, who happens to be Ron Paul’s granddaughter and Senator Paul’s niece. “

    And it all ends with a disgraced resignation and indictments? How can this NOT have an effect on McConnell’s campaign?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  2. Rick DeMent says:

    Oh come on … if this happened to a Democratic campaign do you honestly think that any Republican would waste time mentioning it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  3. Gustopher says:

    Surely, this is just another instance of the Democrats criminalizing politics…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. Stonetools says:

    Go Grimes! Sock it to him. We’ll see what the polls say in a week or two.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. President Camacho says:

    Is bribery illegal or just frowned upon nowadays? I haven’t been keeping up. I live in VA, we like our politicians to accept really large gifts in exchange for their meager wages. :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    Bachmann & the Pauls are all delusional, to put it mildly, but some of them are just aware enough to realize their weirdo politics don’t go over well w/ regular or normal people, so they must cheat to get anywhere.

    While, of course, whining about the country’s moral decline & the like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. rudderpedals says:

    married to Valori Payett, who happens to be Ron Paul’s granddaughter and Senator Paul’s niece.

    More dynasty garbage

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    The Iowa stuff is hilarious, threatening Young Paul like that. No wonder they like to talk Mitt 3.0. What else is there?

    McConnell… too close to call, but I was leaning about 300 votes shy for him before this… so…. the problem is there is too much time now to mull it over. It’s a major stink bomb, no two ways about that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. rachel says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t know… Does the voting public care about a scandal that don’t directly involve the candidates? I’m not sure I would let this influence me if I lived in Kentucky.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rachel: Does the voting public care about any scandal that doesn’t involve a dead girl or a live underage boy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. James Pearce says:

    @rachel:

    Does the voting public care about a scandal that don’t directly involve the candidates?

    I think the obvious answer is yes.

    I’m not sure I would let this influence me if I lived in Kentucky.

    You may be right, but I think it would be wise to assume that people who are not deadset on sending a Republican to the Senate might see it differently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Dog Gone says:

    I can’t find anything which documents that the grand juries are federal rather than state grand juries…… it should be interesting, given that most grand juries operate in 6 month increments which can be extended every 6 months, that if the Bachmann and Paul grand juries are still operational, we should be seeing an indictment sooner than later.

    Unless they were disbanded without them, in which case, the people serving on them would just quietly go home.

    Or maybe not so quietly; once a grand jury is ended there is nothing preventing someone on them from talking, unless they are gagged by the DoJ….pending indictments from them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0