A Bought-And-Paid-For Endorsement?

Earlier this week, former Senator Rick Santorum received a surprising boost to his campaign when he received the personal endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, head of the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader. At the time, the organization made clear that this was only a personal endorsement and that The Family Leader would not be endorsing any candidate before the Iowa Caucuses, which was actually a surprise itself. Now, there are questions about whether Vander Plaats’ may have tried to get cash in exchange for his endorsement:

DAVENPORT, Iowa — An Iowa Christian conservative leader who bestowed his highly sought-after endorsement on presidential candidate Rick Santorum this week is now at the center of a controversy over whether he asked for cash in exchange for his public support.

Less than 48-hours after receiving the backing of Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the prominent evangelical group The Family Leader, Santorum disclosed that the prominent Iowan told him he needed money to make the most out of the endorsement.

And sources familiar with talks between the conservative heavyweight and representatives from several of the Republican presidential campaigns went a step further, describing Vander Plaats’ tactics as corrupt.

“Clearly the endorsement was for sale — without a doubt,” one source said.

It’s a charge that The Family Leader flatly denied.

“The allegation by an unnamed source that Bob Vander Plaats asked any campaigns for money in exchange for his endorsement is absolutely false,” according to a statement issued by the organization on Thursday. The Family Leader said Vander Plaats was unavailable for an interview Thursday.

But even Santorum acknowledged in an interview with CNN that money was among the topics he and Vander Plaats discussed last weekend ahead of Tuesday’s endorsement press conference.

“What he talked about was he needed money to promote the endorsement and that that would be important to do that,” Santorum told CNN. “There was never a direct ask for me to go out and raise money for it.”

The former Pennsylvania senator’s statement differs from what he told ABC News on Monday night — just hours before Vander Plaats endorsed him. At a campaign event in Indianola, Iowa, Santorum said the issue of money never came up in his conversations with the Christian leader.

In a statement Santorum’s National Communications Director Hogan Gidley said, “I don’t know about the discussions other campaigns had, but we did not, nor would we ever agree to raise a single penny for another entity. We’re focused on our own campaign and that’s where our resources will be spent.”

Though Santorum did not specify the dollar amount he and Vander Plaats discussed, multiple sources said he was soliciting as much as $1 million from Santorum and other candidates.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register this week, Vander Plaats said that it was his “ethical responsibility” to essentially put some money where his mouth is.

“You can’t say, ‘We endorsed you. Now see you later,'” Vander Plaats told the Iowa newspaper. “That’s not going to do a lot in the long run.”

Nobody appears to be saying that Santorum agreed to Vander Plaats request, or that any money actually changed hands prior to the endorsement. Nonetheless, this isn’t the first controversy that Vander Plaats was involved in this week. On Tuesday, Politico reported that he had called Michele Bachmann over the weekend and urged her to drop out of the race and endorse Rick Santorum, a request she obviously refused. Vander Plaats denies that he made this request but both Bachmann’s campaign and Bachmann herself have confirmed that the conversation did indeed take place. It’s not clear what game Vander Plaats is playing here, but it doesn’t seem to be a very values-based one.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Vast Variety says:

    Coming from a guy who blames the the heart attack death of his father on the Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality in Iowa, I’m not surprised.