ABC News reported this morning that, according to "multiple" anonymous sources, prominent Iowa social conservative Bob Vander Plaats "was soliciting as much as $1 million from Santorum and other [Republican presidential] candidates" while he was considering endorsing one of them. In a phone interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD this afternoon, Vander Plaats said he "absolutely" denied the allegations.
“The Family Leader is not benefiting as an organization from this, one iota or red cent, and Bob Vander Plaats or Chuck Hurley is not benefiting this one red cent,” said Vander Plaats, the 2008 chairman of Mike Huckabee's campaign and head of a conservative group called the Family Leader. “If we were really going ‘Boy, who’s got the most money? We probably wouldn’t go for Rick Santorum. We believe he’s the best candidate.”
Vander Plaats, who endorsed Rick Santorum on Tuesday, said that he did let Santorum know that he would be devoting resources to promote the endorsement, but he said the conversation was perfectly legal and ethical.
"What he talked about was he needed money to promote the endorsement and that that would be important to do that,” Santorum told CNN. “There was never a direct ask for me to go out and raise money for it.”
“I think where [Santorum] and I had a conversation, he probably asked that question, 'If we were to endorse what would it look like?" said Vander Plaats. "And, as I responded to you, we’d honor that endorsement by doing everything we could and to make it have as much impact as possible."
“I just said to him, when we were communicating, you know, if I or the organization make the endorsement of Rick Santorum or any other candidate, for that matter, I’ll do everything I can to make the endorsement stick," said Vander Plaats. "And that means mobilizing the network, that means identifying resources, that means whatever. But that’s not from the campaign perspective. That’s from my perspective. We’re going to do our best effort.”
Vander Plaats said that he did not have a conversation about financial resources with Bachmann, Perry, or Gingrich camps:
“TWS: So there was never any conversation with any of the other candidates about you or the Family Leader devoting financial resources to promote the [potential] endorsement?
VANDER PLAATS: No, not that I recall. If they would have asked. I probably would have responded.”
Vander Plaats said he did not make a fundraising request to any candidate, including Santorum.
TWS: Did you, while you were considering these four candidates, did you ask them to raise money while it was known that they were being considered for an endorsement?
VANDER PLAATS: Absolutely not. There was never a quid pro quo. There was never a deal of "Hey, you pay us this, we’ll get you this." Never. And I think where the confusion lies, John, is that anytime either us as an organization, which the organization didn’t endorse, or me individually endorsing, that you’re going to make the endorsement stick with just a couple weeks left in the caucuses, you are definitely going to have to raise resources, you’re going to have to communicate that the endorsement was made. So that wasn't from the campaign or the candidate. That was gonna be on my shoulders. ... I just think if you're going to maximize the endorsement, for the benefit of any candidate, and this is a guy who worked with Huckabee four years ago. If we had somebody make an endorsement, it means you gotta make it stick. So, no. It was never the campaign, it was never the candidate. We would never do that. That’s not how we roll. … We are fully aware of coordination and all that stuff that comes into play. And we don’t even come close to the line of that.
The ABC report also includes allegations from a former Mitt Romney staffer that Vander Plaats sought financial resources for his endorsement in 2008, and Vander Plaats denied these allegations as well. “Absolutely not. That’s a great anonymous source," he said. "I can be very clear about that. It’s the Romney campaign that contacted me. And obviously I didn’t make that endorsement. I went to Mike Huckabee, not Mitt Romney.”
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John McCormack is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD and 2011 Phillips Foundation fellow.