Three people with deep ties to the Ron and Rand Paul presidential campaigns were indicted Wednesday after months of investigation. Jesse Benton, John Tate, and Dimitri Kesari are charged with multiple counts, including conspiracy and filing false campaign expenditure reports.
All three worked for former Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s presidental campaign. John Tate and Jesse Benton are the top people at Rand Paul’s Super PAC. Benton and Kesari also worked for Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Charges Relate to 2012 President Primary Betrayal Payoff
The incident referrred to in the indictments involves the last-minute, public betrayal of former Rep. Michele Bachmann by her Iowa state chair at the time—a state senator named Kent Sorenson.
Just prior to the January 2012 Republican Iowa caucasus, Sorenson suddenly and publicly announced he was jumping ship from his position with the Michele Bachmann campaign and declared his new allegiance to Ron Paul.
Kent Sorenson’s last-minute treachery made national news. At the time, candidate Bachmann said that Sorenson had gone to the Ron Paul campaign for “a lot of money,” a charge Sorenson denied. Kent Sorenson even took to the airwaves and told the world that Bachmann was lying and that he hadn’t taken a nickel.
Then, on October 2, 2013, Kent Sorenson resigned from office on the heels of a massive ethics report by a special prosecutor in Iowa.
When Kent Sorenson said he wasn’t paid by the Ron Paul campaign, he was the one lying. As his guilty plea made clear, Sorenson had been paid around $100,000 by the Ron Paul campaign to jump ship from the Bachmann campaign. Worse for Sorsenson, because of Iowa senate rules, the payment was also illegal.
As the Des Moines Register reported in August 2014:
A former Iowa state senator has pleaded guilty in federal court to crimes related to accepting payment from a presidential campaign during Iowa’s 2012 presidential caucus campaign.
Kent Sorenson, of Milo, concealed payments he received from then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and then obstructed the investigation into the incident, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a release on Wednesday.
Part of that massive payment came in the form of a $25,000 check written to Sorenson’s wife by a top Ron Paul staffer named Dimitri Kesari. The Iowa ethics investigation report included a photo of the check, which Sorenson had not cashed. Dimitri Kesari had written the check from the account of a jewelry business owned by Kesari’s wife. In secretly recorded audio, Sorenson claimed that Dimitri Kesari had written the check at a restaurant dinner and given it to Sorenson’s wife while Sorenson was using the restroom.
According to Sorenson’s guilty plea and allegations in the new indictment, other monies were paid to Sorenson and kept off the books from the Federal Election Commission. The indictment states:
On or about December 29, 2011, BENTON emailed KE SARI, TATE and a financial staffer of Political Committee 2 telling them to hold “for a couple days” the wire transfer that had been requested to pay Senator Sorenson;
On or about December 29, 2011, TATE responded to BENTON’S email affirming BENTON’s decision to hold the wire transfer to Senator Sorenson;
On or about December 29, 2011 KESARI responded to BENTON’S and TATE’S emails temporarily holding the wire transfer to Senator Sorenson, explaining, “We are holding till after the filing”…
Who Are Benton, Tate, and Kesari?
Because of their longtime political connections, the new indictments could impact not just Rand Paul’s presidential bid but also Sen. Mitch McConnell, Ron Paul, Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, and the National Right to Work committee.
Jesse Benton is currently head of America’s Liberty PAC, which describes itself as “a Super PAC created for and dedicated to, electing Senator Rand Paul President of the United States in 2016.” Benton worked for Kentucky Sen. McConnell but resigned last year when Kent Sorenson pled guilty. Benton married in the Paul family, worked for Rand Paul’s first run for the Kentucky Senate, and at one point lived in Paul’s basement.
John Tate is the founder and President of Rand Paul’s American’s Liberty PAC. He spent 14 years with the National Right to Work Committee and is a former V.P. at the Leadership institute. His biography at the Campaign for Liberty website describes him as “a long-time political operative who has spent the last 26 years working in the political, lobbying and non-profit world in the areas of high dollar fundraising, direct mail, political strategy, grassroots activism and non-profit management.”
Dimitri Kesari is a longtime political operative with extensive ties to both the National Right to Work Committee and the Ron Paul campiagn. Kesari has set up groups connected to both Paul’s Campaign for Liberty as well as affiliates of the NRTWC. He also did unspecified work for Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year’s election.