Crime

Aides to Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign Indicted on Conspiracy Charges

Former US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) speaks at George Washington University March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Paul spoke at the event organized by student Republicans about his experience in the US government as well as liberties and fiscal policy. (AFP/Getty Images)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Three people who worked for Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign were charged Wednesday with conspiring to buy the support of a former Iowa state senator.

Among those changed is Jesse Benton, a political operative with deep ties to the Paul family. He now is a lead strategist for a super PAC supporting the 2016 presidential candidacy of Paul's son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter.

Ron Paul Former US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) speaks at George Washington University March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Paul spoke at the event organized by student Republicans about his experience in the US government as well as liberties and fiscal policy. (AFP/Getty Images)

An indictment unsealed Wednesday charges Benton, John Tate and Dimitrios Kesari with conspiracy and several other related crimes.

"Federal campaign finance laws are intended to ensure the integrity and transparency of the federal election process," said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell in a statement. "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."

The indictment says the three Ron Paul staffers negotiated with former Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson to switch his support in the 2012 race from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in exchange for money.

Sorenson last year pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the switch of support from one Republican candidate for president to another. Sorenson was state chairman for Bachmann's campaign beginning in June 2011, and six days before the January 2012 Iowa caucuses, Sorenson declared his support for Paul, then a congressman from Texas.

Sorenson admitted to receiving thousands of dollars in "under the table payments" from a 2012 presidential campaign and lying about the money, the Justice Department said at the time.

Iowa state Senate rules forbid any sitting lawmaker from being paid by a campaign while in office.

The indictment says Benton, Tate and Kesari negotiated a payment of $73,000 to Sorenson, concealing the payments in campaign records and filings. The indictment also says the arrangement was concealed from Ron Paul himself and that Benton, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, initiated the deal.

Benton and Tate have lead roles at the best-funded super PAC supporting Rand Paul's 2016 campaign, America's Liberty, which reported raising more than $3 million in the first six months of the year. That is almost a quarter of the money raised by Rand Paul's campaign and outside groups backing his White House bid.

During that time, Benton's consulting group was paid $63,000 and Tate collected about $35,000 in salary, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

A spokesman for Rand Paul's 2016 campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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