Michele Bachmann faces congressional ethics probe

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for alleged misuse of campaign funds, her attorney confirmed Monday.


Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) during a presidential debate last year. (Toni Sandys/The Washington Post)

“There are no allegations that the Congresswoman engaged in any wrongdoing," said her attorney, William McGinley of Patton Boggs. "We are constructively engaged with the OCE and are confident that at the end of their Review the OCE Board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate.”

The probe was first reported by the Daily Beast. An OCE investigation is a preliminary probe; the office can either dismiss a case or recommend a full House Ethics Committee investigation.  The OCE is a non-partisan, independent entity governed by an eight-person board made up of private citizens chosen by the House Speaker and minority leader. There is a 30-day preliminary review; if members decide there is reasonable cause to believe the allegations, a 45-day further review follows. Four members can vote to refer a matter to the Ethics Committee, and four members can vote to terminate a probe. The office does not have subpoena power.

Peter Waldron, who served as Bachmann's national field coordinator in the 2012 presidential race, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the lawmaker's campaign improperly used leadership PAC funds to pay presidential campaign staff. Consultant Guy Short, he alleges, was paid with MichelePAC funds. He also charges that payments to Bachmann's Iowa campaign chairman, state Sen. Kent Sorenson, were concealed due to ethics rules that bar legislators from being employed by campaigns. Both Bachmann and Sorenson have denied those allegations.

Waldron says he has spoken to investigators in what he described as "a very cordial two-hour meeting." While he would not discuss the details of the conversation, he said that the investigators are using his complaint as a blueprint. Other staffers tell the Daily Beast that the questions they were asked relate to the Short and Sorenson payments.

Waldron has also filed a complaint against Sorenson with the Iowa Senate ethics committee, citing the testimony of Eric Woolson, who managed Bachmann's Iowa campaign.

Bachmann's presidential campaign came under fire in 2011 for sending two e-mails to a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE) list, in violation of the group's non-profit status. Woolson testified in a sworn affidavit that Sorenson took the e-mail list and that Bachmann acknowledged that she was aware of the alleged theft. Bachmann's campaign said at the time that the use was inadvertent, a characterization Woolson's testimony appears to contradict. Barb Heki, who worked on Bachmann's campaign, is suing the congresswoman and former senior aides over the misappropriation of the list, alleging that staffers stole it off her computer and then blamed her when the misuse went public. She has also filed a criminal complaint, which Urbandale police are investigating.

In January Waldron accused Bachmann's team of not paying Iowa staffers and of attempting to force them to sign non-disclosure agreements that would prohibit them from discussing any immoral, unethical or criminal behavior with the media, the police or an attorney. Woolson says that all staffers were paid in full.

“Working with her, I know her to be a person of good faith," Waldron told The Post of Bachmann at the time. "However, I also know that she is surrounded by what the Bible says is men of lesser sorts.”


 

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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