Jesse Benton, a longtime ally of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who is heading up a super PAC supporting his presidential campaign, was indicted by federal prosecutors Wednesday on charges that he concealed payments to a former Iowa state senator during the 2012 presidential campaign in order to win his support.
The indictment marks a new complication for Paul, whose political future is on the line in 2016. He is hoping to hold onto his U.S. Senate seat, which is up for reelection, if he does not win the GOP White House nomination.
The charges against Benton, a member of the Paul family by marriage, stem from an alleged endorsement-for-pay scheme during the 2012 campaign of former Republican congressman Ron Paul of Texas, which Benton chaired. Two other former Ron Paul campaign officials were indicted, including John Tate, who was Ron Paul's campaign manager and is now also involved with heading up the pro-Rand Paul super PAC; and Dimitri Kesari, who was Ron Paul’s deputy national campaign manager.
The indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy, causing false records to obstruct a contemplated investigation and causing the submission of false campaign expenditure reports. It alleges they paid more than $70,000 to then-Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson in exchange for his support. The indictment accuses the men of concealing their payments from the Federal Election Commission and the FBI.
“Federal campaign finance laws are intended to ensure the integrity and transparency of the federal election process,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell in a statement announcing the indictment. “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.”
A Rand Paul campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Benton.
Benton is married to the granddaughter of Ron Paul, Rand Paul's father. He's been a close family confidant since 2007. The case has its roots in a pay-for-endorsement scheme that roiled the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2012.