Three members of Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign – including Jesse Benton, who now heads a group backing Rand Paul – have been charged by the Department of Justice for concealing payments to an Iowa lawmaker in 2011.
DOJ charged Benton and two other aides with conspiracy, causing false records to obstruct a contemplated investigation, causing the submission of false campaign expenditure reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and engaging in a scheme to make false statements to the FEC. Benton is additionally charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Benton, who was Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign manager and later Mitch McConnell’s 2014 campaign chief, is currently running Rand Paul’s Super PAC, America’s Liberty PAC. He worked on Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign as a spokesperson (starting in 2007), and he married Ron Paul’s granddaughter (Rand Paul’s niece) in 2008.
In a statement, Ron Paul called the timing of the indictment "suspicious."
"I am extremely disappointed in the government's decision," he said. "I think the timing of this indictment is highly suspicious given the fact that the first primary debate is tomorrow. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved. I will not be commenting further on this matter at this time."
Rand Paul concurred. His campaign said in a statement that the younger Paul "is disappointed that the Obama justice department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate; it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated. Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign."
The Iowa lawmaker, former State Sen. Kent Sorenson, backed Michele Bachmann but abruptly switched his support to Ron Paul shortly before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. He has already pled guilty on charges related to receiving secret payments from Paul’s campaign in exchange for his support. He hasn’t been sentenced yet.
From the DOJ release: “The payments to Sorenson were allegedly made in monthly installments of approximately $8,000 each and ultimately amounted to over $70,000. The indictment alleges that the defendants concealed the payments by causing them to be recorded – both in campaign accounting records and in FEC filings – as campaign-related audio-visual expenditures, and by causing them to be transmitted to a film production company and then to a second company that was controlled by Sorenson. According to the indictment, the conspirators concealed their campaign’s payments to Sorenson from their candidate and also from the FEC, the FBI and the public."
Late last year, in an interview an ABC affiliate in Kentucky, Rand Paul defended making Jesse Benton a part of his campaign: "Jesse is married to my niece and was a big help in the Kentucky election here in 2010 and a big help for Sen. McConnell. And, yes he’ll help us," he said.
Benton himself issued a statement after he resigned from the McConnell campaign, following the endorsement-pay-scheme allegations, which said: "Recently, 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. I hope those who know me recognize that I strive to be a man of integrity. The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false. However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign."