Former Ron Paul Aide Convicted in Pay-for-Endorsement Case

Another staffer was aquitted—but the case may not be over.

Patrick Doyle/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


An Iowa jury returned a complicated mixed verdict in the trial of two former Ron Paul aides accused of scheming to pay off an Iowa state senator for his endorsement in the run-up to the 2012 Iowa caucuses, and then hiding the payments from the public and campaign finance regulators. Jesse Benton, the grandson-in-law of Ron Paul and the former head of the main super-PAC backing Rand Paul in his 2016 run, was acquitted on one charge of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of the plan. Dimitri Kesari, a long-time Paul family associate, was found guilty of causing false records but acquitted on a charge that he tried to get the state senator to deny the payments once he realized a federal investigation was underway. The jury deadlocked on three other charges against Kesari accusing him of conspiracy and violating specific campaign finance laws.

Defense attorneys never contested the fact that then-Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R) was paid $73,000 for switching his endorsement from the floundering Michele Bachmann to the surging Ron Paul in the days before the Iowa caucuses in late 2011. Throughout the trial, however, they did their best to sow confusion about whether the plan to pay Sorenson, and to funnel the payments through a third-party to cover up the transactions, was actually illegal, and whether their clients should be held responsible.

The news of Benton’s acquittal is a boost for Rand Paul, with whom Benton worked closely for years before he was indicted. Benton was running America’s Liberty PAC, a super-PAC explicitly endorsed by Rand Paul, along with another longtime Paul aide, John Tate. Originally, Benton faced the same conspiracy and campaign finance charges as Kesari. So did Tate, who was indicted at the same time. Those charges against Benton and Tate were dropped after defense attorneys successfully argued that the government included improper information in the indictments.

The government still has the option to refile the charges against Benton and Tate, and has 10 days to decide whether to retry Kesari on the three charges the jury deadlocked on.

Kesari currently faces up to five years in prison on the charge for which he was convicted.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate