By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – A former Republican candidate has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against one of his rivals in the 2012 presidential race alleging he paid $1 million for the endorsement of a prominent Iowa conservative.
Republican Fred Karger asked the commission to investigate allegations that the National Organization for Marriage paid the Iowa-based Family Leader and its President Bob Vander Plaats as much as $1 million for Vander Plaats’ endorsement of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
That endorsement largely helped Santorum win Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses in January 2012, according to the complaint.
“It was widely reported in the media that Mr. Vander Plaats had solicited up to $1 million from three different presidential campaigns before making his final endorsement of Mr. Santorum,” Karger said in the complaint.
“In December 2011, former United States Senator Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign was on life support. His polling numbers were in the low single digits and he had very little campaign cash.”
Officials with the National Organization for Marriage and Santorum were not immediately available for comment. Chuck Hurley, who works closely with Vander Plaats, said he would e-mail his comment, which was never received by Iowa Watchdog.
Karger, a California native, dropped out of the race following the Utah primary.
Vander Plaats endorsed Santorum, whose campaign was struggling financially and in the polls, two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. He then started the Leaders for Families Super PAC and began a massive robocalling campaign. Additionally, he produced radio and television commercials, raised at least $150,000 and spent far more, Karger alleged.
Karger, who is openly gay, said Santorum’s campaign didn’t have the funds to pay for Vander Plaat’s endorsement, meaning they likely came from a third party. He alleges the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington D.C.-based conservative group, provided Santorum with the money and described their relationship as an “unholy alliance.”
“The National Organization for Marriage has consistently funded and run campaigns all over the country and refuses to obey state and federal election laws,” Karger said in an statement to Iowa Watchdog. “It’s time that they are held accountable. The FEC complaint brings forth much evidence of collusion between the Santorum for President Campaign, NOM and Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, in order to secure Mr. Vander Plaat’s endorsement of Rick Santorum just two weeks before the January 3, 2012 Iowa GOP Caucus. At the time fellow Republican candidate for president Rick Perry referred to that as a $1 million endorsement.”
The National Organization for Marriage has strong ties to Vander Plaats and his group, as they helped back Vander Plaats’ efforts to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court judges in 2010 after they voted to legalize gay marriage.
The Leaders for Families PAC, the fund-raising machine established after Santorum secured Vander Plaat’s endorsement, also had previous connections to the national conservative group.
The PAC was established by The Bopp Law Firm, which employed James Bopp, NOM’s principal attorney since 2007, according to the complaint.
“An investigation of the events surrounding Bob Vander Plaats’ 2011 endorsement of Rick Santorum for President would send a clear message to future federal campaigns and organizations that the purchase of an endorsement by third parties in coordination with a federal campaign is illegal,” Karger wrote in the complaint.
Contact Sheena Dooley at [email protected]