For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing, tweeting, and talking about #Staffergate; a sweeping scandal that involves dirty, illegal and just plain wrong political shenanigans by key staffers of top name Republican politicians like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul Rep. Michele Bachmann, & former Rep. Ron Paul.
The #Staffergate scandal is being moved along by law enforcement interest that’s resulted in recent FBI raids as well as a continuing Office of Congressional Ethics investigation against Bachmann. So far, the story we’ve presented. The scandal threatens to impact the political fate of both McConnell, who is facing a tough reelection battle in Kentucky as well as the 2016 presidential ambitions of Rand Paul.
Now add another ambitious GOP contender to the #Staffergate scandal roster: Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, who recently announced his primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn.
The #staffergate connection is Danny Ferguson, whose LinkedIn resume lists him as “Media Strategist/Senior Adviser at Congressman Steve Stockman” as well as Campaign Manager for Stockman’s 2012 House run.
Ferguson is currently ensnared is allegations of campaign wrongdoing in Montana. It’s a story whose bizarre details–including boxes of documents found in a “meth house” in Colorado–have attracted both national media attention and the FBI. It also ties directly to other key players in #Staffergate.
The story is significant not just because of the impact on Rep. Steve Stockman for having a close advisor involved in alleged political malfeasance but because it also appears to indicate a multi-state, multi-election pattern of illegal campaign behavior by a top conservative political activism group, The National Right to Work Committee.
#StafferGate Refresher : Iowa
A quick refresher on the Iowa end of #Staffergate will help explain what happened in Montana.
Just prior to the January, 2012 Republican Iowa Caucasus, a bald. burly, bearded Iowa State Senator named Kent Sorenson suddenly announced he was jumping ship from his position as the State Chair for the Michele Bachmann presidential campaign and told the world of his new allegiance to Ron Paul.
Kent Sorenson’s last-minute treachery made national news. 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.
Cut to October 2, 2013. Kent Sorenson resigns from office on the heels of a massive ethics report by a special prosecutor in Iowa.
It turns out that when Kent Sorenson said he wasn’t paid by the Ron Paul campaign, he was the one lying. In fact, Sorenson had been paid around $100,000 by the Ron Paul campaign to backstab Bachmann. Worse for Sorsenson; because of Iowa Senate rules, the payment was also likely illegal.
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 reported 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 this secretly recorded audio, Sorenson claims that Dimitri Kesari had written the check at a restaurant dinner and given it to Sorenson’s wife while Sorenson was using the restroom.
This brings us to an important question : who is Dimitri Kesari? We’ve already established Kesari is a person who will write a $25,000 check to your wife when you’re in the bathroom in order to buy your defection in a presidential campaign.
Dimitri Kesari & The Secret Iowa Printing Presses
Dimitri Kesari is a longtime political operative with extensive ties to both the National Right to Work Committee and the Ron Paul movement. Kesari has set up groups connected to both Paul’s Campaign for Liberty as well as affiliates of the NRTWC.
So, how does this all Iowa activity relate to Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, his campaign manager / senior advisor Danny Ferguson, and the trouble in Montana?
To understand that, you need to know about the secret printing presses that Dimitri Kesari is said to have set up in Iowa.
Sources close to Dimitri Kesari say that a few years ago, he bought Risograph machines for use in Iowa politics. If you aren’t familiar with a Risograph, it’s a device that Wikipedia describes thusly:
For schools, clubs, colleges, political campaigns and other short-run print jobs, the Risograph bridges the gap between a standard photocopier (which is cheaper up to about 50 copies) and using a commercial printer (cheaper over about 10,000 copies).
The secret Iowa printing operation allowed Kesari to coordinate political mailings for candidates using voter lists that were targeted using surveys that had been conducted by, among other, groups connected to the National Right to Work Committee. Sources involved say that these mailings were done in Iowa ‘off the books'; not listed an expense as required by election law on the candidates expenditure records.
One of the political campaigns that is alleged to have made use of Dimitri Kesari’s illicit campaign printing and mailing services is that of Kent Sorenson.
Cut to Montana.
Prior to the 2010 elections, National Right to Work Committee operative Dimitri Kesari contacts the Montana Right to Work chapter and says they are moving a new field rep into the state. The new rep sent into Montana is a man named Christian LeFer. LeFer’s LinkedIn page says he worked with the National Right to Work Committee from 2004 until 2011.
After Dimitri Kesari & NRTWC put Christian LeFer into place in Montana, two things happen. LeFer begins to set up a new entity: a 501(c)(4) group called Western Tradition Partnership. This ZoomInfo page lists LeFer as Director of Strategic Programming. As a 501(c)(4), WTP had restrictions. As a PBS / ProPublica report explains:
Social welfare nonprofits like WTP are allowed to engage in some political activity, but IRS regulations say they must have social welfare as their primary purpose. ProPublica has extensively reported on how some of these nonprofits, known as 501(c)(4)’s after their section of the tax code, appear to exploit gaps in enforcement between the Internal Revenue Service and election authorities so they don’t have to disclose where they get their money.
When WTP applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status, the group also told the IRS under penalty of perjury that it would not directly or indirectly attempt to influence elections.
Western Tradition Partnership named a friend of Christian LeFer as their Executive Director; Donny Ferguson. After leaving WTP in 2011, Donny Ferguson went to become Texas Rep. Steve Stockman Campaign Manager and Senior Advisor.
The second thing that happened after Dimitri Kesari and the National Right to Work Committee brought in Christian LeFer as the Montana field rep is that LeFer’s wife Allison set up a new printing and mailing company. The company was called Direct Mail and it did campaign mailings.
Don’t worry, we’re almost to the part about the documents found in the Colorado meth house. That’s the boxes of documents that Christian and Alison LeFer would later sue the state of Montana over. Two of boxes of documents are currently in possession of the FBI. Almost there.