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

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

Patrick Doyle/AP

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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.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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