8/5/15, "Rand Paul Aide Indicted on Charges of Hiding Payments," NY Times, Alan Rappeport, 8/6 print ed.
Rand Paul has been charged with hiding secret payments to secure the endorsement of an Iowa lawmaker during the 2012 presidential campaign of the senator’s father, former Representative Ron Paul, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Jesse Benton, who was Ron Paul’s presidential campaign manager, is accused of paying more than $70,000 to Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa state senator, to win his support before the state’s caucuses in 2012. Mr. Sorenson had been backing Representative Michele Bachmann at the time but later switched to support Mr. Paul.
The charges against Mr. Benton are the latest blow to Rand Paul’s campaign, which has struggled to gain traction in the polls and has had fund-raising troubles and staff turmoil.
Mr. Benton had been tapped to run America’s Liberty, a “super PAC” that supports the younger Mr. Paul’s presidential bid. Also charged are John Tate and Dimitrios Kesari, who worked with Mr. Benton on the 2012 campaign.
The three are accused of submitting false expense reports to the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Benton is also accused of lying to the F.B.I.
“When political operatives make under-the-table payments to buy an elected official’s political support, it undermines public confidence in our entire political system,” Leslie R. Caldwell, the assistant attorney general handling the case, said in a statement announcing the charges.
The indictment said that Mr. Benton and his colleagues paid Mr. Sorenson in monthly installments of $8,000. They then concealed the payments as audiovisual campaign expenses, transferring them to a film-production company and then to another company that Mr. Sorenson controlled.
Representatives for Mr. Benton were not available for comment and the Pauls expressed disappointment that such charges would be brought the day before the first Republican presidential debate on Thursday.
“Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama Justice Department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate,” a spokesman for his campaign said. “It certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated.”
Ron Paul also questioned the timing of the indictment and expressed concern for his former staff members. “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Sorenson surprised the Iowa political world in late 2011 when, hours after attending a campaign event for Mrs. Bachmann, he showed up at a Ron Paul rally to offer his endorsement. He had been Mrs. Bachmann’s Iowa chairman.
“It’s difficult, but it’s the right thing to do because he fights for the values that I hold dear,” he said, explaining that Mr. Paul was the best conservative to take on the Republican establishment.
Mrs. Bachmann accused the Paul campaign of buying Mr. Sorenson’s endorsement at the time, but Mr. Paul’s corner denied the charges, with Mr. Benton suggesting “she doesn’t have a clue.”
Mr. Benton has been far more than a paid political consultant to the Pauls. He is married to Rand Paul’s niece. And until this year — when he stepped away from his role as an informal adviser to the senator’s political operation to run the super PAC — few people in Mr. Paul’s inner circle understood the candidate as well or had so much of his confidence.
As rumors of possible legal troubles swirled around Mr. Benton, Mr. Paul strongly defended his honesty and integrity.
“I don’t think he’s done anything wrong,” the senator told a Kentucky television station last year.
The indictments could raise questions about the durability of Mr. Paul’s campaign as the nominating process gathers pace.
Republicans in Iowa said the charges should not be taken lightly.
“I think it impacts him more than just in Iowa,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party and a writer for The Iowa Republican. “This isn’t just three guys getting indicted who just happened to work on behalf of your father. This is three members of the Paul Campaign for Liberty political machine that have been indicted. One of which, Mr. Benton, runs a super PAC that is supporting Rand.”
America’s Liberty raised more than $3 million during the first six months of 2015. The super PAC, one of three supporting Mr. Paul’s presidential bid, has paid Mr. Tate close to $40,000 in salary this year, according to Federal Election Commission records. Mr. Benton’s firm, Titan Strategies, has been paid about $60,000.
With the suggestions of wrongdoing persistent, Mr. Benton resigned from the re-election campaign of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last year amid concern that the case that eventually led to his indictment would become a distraction.
Once a rising political star in Iowa, Mr. Sorenson has seen his fortunes fade since the last election cycle. Last summer he pleaded guilty to concealing payments he received in exchange for his endorsement and for obstructing justice. The Des Moines Register reported last month that he had been arrested on charges of assaulting his wife and becoming aggressive with police officers who tried to apprehend him.
Despite Mr. Sorenson’s endorsement, Mr. Paul came in third place in the Iowa caucuses in 2012, outpacing Mrs. Bachmann. He dropped out of the race five months later.
Correction: August 5, 2015
An earlier version of a summary that appeared with this article on the home page of NYTimes.com misstated a position held by Jesse Benton. He was campaign manager for Ron Paul, not Rand Paul, whom he has also advised."