DES MOINES — Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats did not ask for money in exchange for his endorsement and did not ask Republican Michele Bachmann to step aside, according to a statement released Thursday from the Family Leader.
Vander Plaats is president and CEO of the Family Leader. On Tuesday, he announced his personal endorsement of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for president, but said the organization itself would remain neutral.
The endorsement was seen as a setback for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both of whom have worked for the evangelical vote.
After the endorsement, Bachmann told Fox News that her campaign had received a call from Vander Plaats asking her to drop out.
On Wednesday, Santorum told CNN that Vander Plaats had talked about money before Tuesday’s endorsement, although Santorum said Vander Plaats did not directly ask for cash for a specific service or endorsement.
The Family Leader’s statement says any allegation that “Bob Vander Plaats asked any campaigns for money in exchange for his endorsement is absolutely false.”
It also calls “completely false” the allegation that Vander Plaats asked Bachmann to step down.
“The truth is that after much prayer and discernment, the Family Leader board members directed Bob to contact Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to present the concept of merging in order to provide a solution to the fractured vote of caucus-going conservatives,” the statement reads. “The board’s request is reflective of the broader caucus community. At no time did Mr. Vander Plaats make any specific demands in regard to who should merge with whom.”
Bachmann, speaking Thursday on a Des Moines call-in show, said that “merge means drop out.”
Chris Larimer, a political science professor from the University of Northern Iowa, said the Family Leader’s statement looks like “damage control” from a poorly handled endorsement.
“This was the big endorsement everyone wanted, and it’s all jumbled,” Larimer said.
He said the group has a long history and strong following among evangelical Christians, so social conservatives are likely to give it the benefit of the doubt.
“But if you have people continuing to come out and say (Vander Plaats) asked that she step aside or these other allegations, then there’s a question of credibility,” he said.