Star Tribune

Michele Bachmann is in talks to settle Iowa lawsuit

Sources say she met with lawyers for woman who accused campaign of stealing e-mail list.

Article by: Kevin Diaz , Star Tribune

Updated: May 8, 2013 - 5:29 AM

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is engaged in settlement negotiations in a lawsuit alleging that senior members of her presidential campaign stole a proprietary e-mail list of home-school families from the computer of an Iowa campaign staffer, according to sources close to the case.

The Minnesota Republican reportedly traveled to Des Moines Monday to meet with attorneys for Barb Heki, an Iowa woman who sued the campaign last year alleging the theft of the list, which eventually was used to contact Iowa home-schoolers.

Lawyers for Bachmann and the campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the talks. Bachmann’s congressional office also declined to comment or provide an account of her whereabouts on Monday.

Heki, the campaign’s former home school coalition director, referred questions to her new litigation attorney, Jeffrey Wright, who also declined to comment. In the past, Heki has sought a public apology from Bachmann, which has not been forthcoming.

The campaign has previously called the use of the list “inadvertent,” a view that Heki and campaign whistleblower Peter Waldron, a Florida pastor, have disputed publicly. Campaign officials eventually negotiated a $2,000 payment to rent the list from the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE).

Heki said she was blamed for misappropriating the database and was removed from the nonprofit’s board. One of the counts in her suit alleges libel and slander.

Iowa state senator involved

The suit implicates Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson in the alleged theft. Sorenson, once Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman, is now the subject of an inquiry by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, which called for a special investigator last week.

Sorenson also is being investigated for taking payments to support Bachmann — a possible violation of Iowa Senate ethics rules intended to bar lawmakers from taking paid positions in presidential campaigns.

The circumstances surrounding the use of the e-mail list in November 2011 also are being investigated by police in Urbandale, a Des Moines suburb where Bachmann’s campaign office was located.

To date, no charges have been filed.

Sorenson, who abandoned the Bachmann campaign in the waning days of the January 2012 Iowa caucuses, has denied any involvement in taking the list.

Conflicting accounts

In a recent affidavit, Sorenson aide Christopher Dorr acknowledged going into Heki’s office and downloading a database from her computer in the belief that it was a campaign e-mail list. “The office maintained an open environment,” he said. “There was never a need for stealth activity.”

Dorr’s account, however, contradicts a 2012 affidavit from former Bachmann campaign manager Eric Woolson, who said Sorenson told him “we took ” the list and that those involved “stood watch” while Heki was out of the office.

Campaign insiders have suggested that the NICHE list was important to help Bachmann check the momentum of GOP rival Rick Santorum, who was making inroads with Christian conservatives on his way to winning the Iowa caucuses.

Waldron, who has also given an account to investigators, said he told Bachmann about the incident on December 18, 2012, but that the campaign took no action against Sorenson, who later defected to the Ron Paul campaign.

Waldron also has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging financial improprieties in the payments to Sorenson, reportedly through MichelePAC, Bachmann’s independent political organization, and a company controlled by Bachmann fundraiser Guy Short.

Ethics office investigates

Those allegations are also being investigated by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

A string of campaign e-mails obtained by the Star Tribune also shows an exchange between Waldron, Woolson and campaign consultant Bob Heckman discussing ways to get Sorenson to admit responsibility in the Heki case.

“It should have been done earlier,” Woolson said in a December 2012 e-mail, “in a way that spared Barb from the heartache she has endured.”

Waldron said that, as a Christian, he could not “be complicit with violating theft and bearing false testimony.”

Meanwhile, Heckman took the view that Sorenson should “make it right” with Heki. He viewed Bachmann as an “innocent party.”

Heki, however, has faulted Bachmann for remaining publicly silent about the case, even as she allegedly told her privately the day after the caucuses that Sorenson had been involved in taking the list.

That account was backed up in the affidavit provided by Woolson, who was later dismissed as a defendant in Heki’s suit.

That suit, filed six months after the Bachmann presidential campaign folded, names Bachmann along with Sorenson, Short, and several other top campaign officials who she believes participated in a cover-up of the incident.

Iowa attorney Jeffrey Goodman, who is representing the campaign in Heki litigation, has previously denied any wrongdoing by Bachmann or her associates. He did not respond to an inquiry about the settlement talks.

 

Kevin Diaz • kdiaz@startribune.com

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