Last month, Rep. Michele Bachmann announced her decision not to seek a fifth term amid an array of ethics charges, one of which is an allegation that she secretly paid Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson for his support during her abortive presidential bid. According to NBC, Bachmann's former chief of staff, Andy Parrish, swore in an affidavit to the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee that Bachmann "knew of and approved" a scheme to funnel $7,500 per month to Sorenson through an allied consulting firm in exchange for his backing, despite Iowa Senate ethics rules barring lawmakers from receiving presidential campaign payments. In his affidavit, Parrish called Bachmann an "outstanding public servant," suggesting he had no axe to grind. Sorenson flatly denies any violation of ethics rules, and says he received money only to cover expenses. While gleeful liberals and dismayed Tea Partiers have mostly overlooked the charge in the wake of her announcement, it may be an important harbinger of future election cycles.
To understand why, you have to start with turn-of-the-century urban machine politics. Early get-out-the-vote (GOTV) systems relied on money changing hands through employment: Party bosses, generally divided by ethnicity, rounded up votes from ethnic neighborhoods in exchange for control over the abundant patronage positions available in rapidly-growing cities. At first the practice was confined to European immigrant populations, but African American voters were gradually included. In Chicago, for instance, blacks were gradually incorporated into the machine by powerbrokers like the late Rep. William Dawson, and were offered municipal positions like the one held by Fraser Robinson III, a pump worker at the city's water plant (and Michelle Obama's father).