Three staffers from Rep. Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign were at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis last week. They're appealing criminal convictions related to a conspiracy to hide payments to former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson, who resigned endorsed Paul days before the Iowa Caucuses.
The staffers argue the standards by which the Federal Election Commission evaluates financial disclosure reports are unknown, so they say they couldn’t have known their actions were illegal. But Justice Department attorney Sonia Ralston says the law is clear and straightforward.
"It’s about the agency having a threshold below which it’s not worth the agency’s resources to go after every particular thing that might have happened, but that doesn't mean the agency couldn't," Ralston told the judges. "The standard is whether they could [investigate,] not whether they would."
It's not illegal pay for an endorsement, though it is against the Iowa Senate's code of ethics. Rather, the charges resulted from the cover-up.
The campaign concealed the payments to Sorenson by sending money to a Maryland production company, which in turn paid the lawmaker. On FEC filings, Sorenson's payments were listed as invoices to Interactive Communication Technology.
Jesse Binnall, attorney of former Deputy Campaign Manager Dimitri Kesari, argues his client’s conviction criminalizes normal political activity.
"The government continuously represents that the statutes at issue require honesty," says Binnall. "It's more accurate to say that the statutes here prohibit falsity, than to say they require honesty."
Ralston says whether the staffers actions violated federal law was up to the jury, which returned across-the-board guilty verdicts.
As a result of these felony convictions, Keari spent three months in prison and his co-consiprators received two years’ probation. All three must pay a $10,000 fine.
Sorenson is currently serving a 15-month prison sentence.