McConnell campaign manager not a big McConnell fan

Jesse Benton says he's "holdin' my nose for two years" to work for the Kentucky senator

Topics: Mitch McConnell, Ron Paul, Campaign Finance, Tea Party,

McConnell campaign manager not a big McConnell fanJohn Boehner, Mitch McConnell (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

We always suspected that Jesse Benton, a Ron Paul alumnus who this year became Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, was not a big Mitch McConnell fan, and now we may know for sure. “Between you and me, I’m sorta holdin’ my nose for two years,” he said to a friend in an audio recording obtained today by the Economic Policy Journal.

Benton is a died-in-the-wool Paulite — he’s married to Paul’s granddaughter — who has made it his mission to make McConnell hip, one GIF and auto-tuned attack video at a time. So it’s not particularly surprising that this anti-establishmentarian is holding his nose to work for the most powerful establishment Republican in the country.

Benton is already playing defense: “It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me,” he said, echoing Team McConnell’s response to the secret audio recording of his campaign HQ. “Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014.”

But what’s more interesting than this bit of trouble in McConnell-land is the back story of how the recording was made. The “holdin’ my nose” issue is actually the second most potentially damaging issue Benton is involved in right now. The first is allegations that he approved illegal payments to a prominent Iowa state senator to switch his endorsement from Rep. Michele Bachmann to Rep. Ron Paul in Iowa caucus last year.

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The state senator, Kent Sorenson, wanted to be paid $8,000 a month for most of the year, on top of a $100,000 donation for his leadership PAC, according to emails published this week by the the Iowa Republican. It’s unclear if the payments went through, but Sorenson did, in fact, abruptly switch his support to Paul from Bachman, who is under investigation for campaign finance violations related to Sorenson.

“Oh, I know Jesse knows, I know Jesse knows,” Sorenson has said. The “nose” recording was made when Benton spoke with Dennis Fusaro, another former Paul aide who spoke publicly about the deal this week. “I came forward because I thought it was wrong and damaging,” Fusaro told the Washington Post. He too thinks Benton was aware of the deal. Benton has denied any wrongdoing.

Benton made some enemies among Paul’s base at times, some of whom criticized him for skimming too much money off the Paul network for himself or for allegedly “sabotag[ing]” Paul’s campaign during the Republican National Convention.

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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