– How scandal could touch Rand Paul, McConnell (The Courier Journal, Aug 30, 2014):
Jesse Benton may have mitigated harm to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign when he resigned in reaction to a burgeoning bribery scandal on Friday, but it could send shock waves through the expected 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul, who is his uncle by marriage.
Benton quit following the guilty plea announced Wednesday of Kent Sorenson, a former Iowa state senator who admitted to switching his support in the 2012 Iowa caucuses from former Rep. Michele Bachmann to Paul’s father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, in exchange for $73,000.
Sorensen claimed in a recorded phone conversation that Benton, who was Ron Paul’s political director at the time, knew of the payoffs.
Benton has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the payoffs and of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, there has been no allegation of improprieties in the McConnell campaign.
That and the fact that Benton quit quickly ought to help insulate McConnell from too much fallout.
Whether the senior senator is fully protected, however, remains to be seen as this could be the type of issue that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and super PACs supporting her could seize upon to further make the case that McConnell and his whole organization is corrupt.
To date, the argument of corruption has simply been the allegation that big-money backers enjoy greater access to McConnell, the most powerful Republican in the U.S. Senate, than do others who have important agenda items being considered by Congress.
The quality of television commercials and the amount of money Grimes and her backers are willing to invest in the Benton issue could well determine if it has any legs.
But the impact of Benton’s resignation on the day-to-day running of the campaign should be minimal. Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff who is much closer to the senator than Benton, has really had as much, if not more say for the past six months over how the campaign is run than Benton, who had made some mistakes.
One error was being recorded telling Dennis Fusaro, a former aide to Ron Paul, that he was holding his nose while working for McConnell. Fusaro also leaked the recordings and emails involving Sorenson.
Another error was when the campaign garnered negative media attention after Benton, a mixture of Philadelphia brash and Texas swagger, had police block then-LEO Weekly news editor Joe Sonka from entering a press conference in Louisville.
The impact on Rand Paul, however, could be greater than any trouble McConnell might see.
The Sorenson plea goes directly to the heart of the Paul family political network and could make people like Benton and Dimitri Kesari effectively off limits for a presidential campaign.
Kesari was also part of the Paul network and mentioned in documents gathered during an Iowa state ethics probe into the allegations of bribery.
Benton also managed Rand Paul’s general election campaign in 2010.
In addition to possibly losing trusted operatives, one Republican told me the biggest problem is that the matter raises concerns among establishment Republicans, who have long had worries about the Paul family operation. It has historically been populated by libertarian-leaning people not schooled in party politics who bristle at following rules with which they don’t agree, he said.
While Rand Paul has brought his father’s organization into the mainstream, many of those people remain.
Rand Paul himself also has tendencies to eschew authority, as evidenced by his creation of the National Board of Ophthalmology when he didn’t agree with the American Board of Ophthalmology’s rule requiring him to pass a test to be recertified as an eye doctor.
For the law-and-order GOP establishment type, rules are important.
Each election year, politicians like to remind us that this is the most important election in our lifetime. If the Ron Paul scandal is allowed to fester, Republicans may think twice about handing such an important nomination to his son.