Jesse Benton, a former campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, is active in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate contest this fall even though he was convicted in May on felony political corruption charges and was accused by a British newspaper this week of trying to funnel illicit donations from a foreign source into the presidential race.
Campaign finance reports show that Benton, 39, is being paid as a contractor by America’s Liberty Political Action Committee, a pro-Paul super PAC that he once ran until he resigned last year after his indictment.
America’s Liberty PAC reported spending about $14,000 in late September on advertising that attacks Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is Paul’s Democratic challenger. More significantly, it has transferred at least $100,000 to another pro-Paul super PAC, Concerned American Voters, which reports spending about $330,000, also on ads attacking Gray.
Neither Benton nor officials at America’s Liberty PAC in Warrenton, Va., would say this week what he does for the group. The PAC pays Benton $3,000 to $5,000 a month through the political consulting business, Titan Strategies, that he founded last year in Louisville, keeping his name out of their finance reports. The payments — the most recently reported was Sept. 28 — are explained as compensation for “P.R. and media consulting.”
“I am actually quite boring and not much worthy of your ink,” Benton wrote Tuesday in a response to questions about his PAC work. “I am not currently involved with any campaign, but would gladly help any honorable conservative seeking to make a positive change.”
Paul’s campaign did not respond to questions about Benton’s role in the Senate race or the current relationship between the two men.
Benton is married to a niece of Rand Paul and a granddaughter of Paul’s father, Ron, a former Texas congressman who ran for president four years ago.
A U.S. District Court jury found Benton guilty of plotting with another Ron Paul aide in 2012 to make $73,000 in hidden payments to an Iowa state senator in exchange for his endorsement of Ron Paul. Last month, a federal judge sentenced Benton to six months of home confinement, two years of probation and a $10,000 fine.
Asking the judge to not send him to prison, where he could have faced up to 35 years, Benton said at his sentencing hearing that his political career was ruined. Benton told the judge that he would try to support his family as a copywriter if he wasn’t incarcerated.
“A steep price has been paid,” Benton told the judge.
However, Benton stayed in politics. This week, a British newspaper, The Telegraph, alleged that Benton and another political operative, Eric Beach, recently attempted to inappropriately funnel foreign money through Benton’s Titan Strategies to a political group supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Federal law prohibits campaign donations from foreigners.
In a video released by the newspaper, Benton tells undercover Telegraph reporters who claimed to represent a wealthy Chinese businessman that their money would “definitely allow us to spend two million more dollars on digital and television advertising for Trump.” The Chinese donor’s name would be “whispered into Mr. Trump’s ear whenever your client feels that it’s appropriate,” Benton says.
“You shouldn’t put any of this on paper,” Benton tells the reporters in the video.
According to the Telegraph, Benton denied any “unethical” behavior.