No Exaggeration About THIS: Bachmann Faces Congressional Ethics Probe
If Minnesota’s unsuccessful GOP Presidential nomination hopeful Rep. Michelle Bachmann is known for one thing: she plays fast and loose with the facts and peppers her speeches with exaggerations. But it is no exaggeration to say this: her campaign is now the target of a Congressional ethics probe. The Daily Beast’s John Avlon reports:
Eighteen months ago, the Minnesota House member was considered an unlikely but undeniable Republican rising star, winning the Iowa straw poll that unofficially begins the primary season. Today, she is embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign—including a Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties that has not previously been reported.
The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations. The investigators are working on behalf of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which probes reported improprieties by House members and their staffs and then can refer cases to the House Ethics Committee.
“I have been interviewed by investigators,” says Peter Waldron, a former Bachmann staffer who’s embroiled in his own fight with his former boss, involving his allegations of pay-to-play politics and improper payments by the campaign—making him one of several members of Bachmann’s inner circle who’ve fallen out with the woman they once hoped would become commander in chief. While he was careful to avoid specifics in regard to the investigating body, Waldron said that “investigators came [and] interviewed me and are interviewing other staff members across the country.”
Two other former staffers confirmed the existence of the investigation this weekend, and on Monday Bachmann’s campaign counsel, William McGinley, of the high-powered firm Patton Boggs, confirmed that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was looking into the congresswoman’s presidential campaign last year.
“There are no allegations that the Congresswoman engaged in any wrongdoing,” McGinley said. “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.”
This sounds like a story with “legs”:
Former staffers tell The Daily Beast that investigators have allegedly asked about allegations of improper transfer of funds and under-the-table payments actions by Bachmann’s presidential campaign, specifically in relation to the campaign’s national political director, Guy Short, and Bachmann’s onetime Iowa campaign chairman, state Sen. Kent Sorenson. Questions directly about Bachmann, they said, have been primarily focused on what she knew about those men’s actions and when she knew it.
And Avlon puts it into perspective perfectly:
The emergence of still another investigation tied to Bachmann’s presidential misadventure is the latest hit in what’s been a slow-motion crash for an unusually irresponsible politician who’d briefly emerged as a national figure with White House ambitions.
To backtrack a bit.
To moderates, centrists and independent voters there could not be a more unattractive political choice than Bachmann. She is the anthesis of what the Republican Party needs to present as an image if they want to win — but, then again, you have to wonder if conservatives want to win.
She speaks in languages of political apocalypse, with Democrats, liberals, and in particular Barack Obama being virtual demons. At times it seems as if Bachmann is auditioning for a national talk show or a seat on the Fox & Friends couch. Even worse: her political statements often just don’t quite pass the fact check test, but they flunk miserably.
And, for once, that horrible, trite phrase accurately describes what immediately happens when she makes one of her alarming allegations of what will come to pass under the evil-intentioned Democrats and Obama: her allegations (to centrists, moderates and independents) don’t pass the “the smell test.”
In fact, it was partially due stench of Bachmann stuck in polemical, a-bomb primary mode unable to stop hurling red-meat and broaden the appeal of her campaign that helped lead her respected political strategist Ed Rollins to in effect run for the hills at one point in her ill-fated national campaign for the Republican nomation.
Rollins later was highly critical of her when she stepped way over the line.
Avlon offers more details about Bachmann then adds:
Narrowly reelected to what had been a safe House seat after abandoning her presidential run, Bachmann returned to Congress diminished. Her bids to join Republican leadership have been rebuffed, and House colleagues co-exist with her uneasily. The Tea Party caucus she helped found to much fanfare in 2011 is now dormant. And even before her year in Iowa, her staff rarely stayed with her for long—she’s seen a 46 percent annual turnover rate during her time on the Hill, according to The Washington Times—not a vote of confidence from those who know her best.
“She’s the Republican Dennis Kucinich,” says one longtime Bachmann senior staffer. “Politics is like jumping off a diving board. You rise, you plateau, but at the end of the day everyone comes down. Some people make a splash and some people belly flop. She belly flopped. And you don’t get a second chance at the diving board.”
Embarrassments have become routine whenever she’s tried to forcibly reinsert herself into the national debate, as the sort of wild claims that helped make her reputation in the first place have increasingly been swatted down, even by fellow Republicans. In the last week alone she has been called out by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly for “a trivial pursuit” after dedicating much of her CPAC speech to what she called President Obama’s “lavish” lifestyle (in fact, the costs she cited are primarily related to Secret Service protection, and some of them were simply false). She followed that up with a reality-challenged rant on the House floor, calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Bachmann holds the distinction of having a higher percentage of statements analyzed by PolitiFact determined to be outright lies—or “Pants on Fire”—than any other politician, according to a survey by The Daily Beast.
But this is an unfortunate part of 21st century American politics merely amplified in Bachmann’s case: to many partisans facts don’t really matter anymore. Just repeating a charge or a mantra.
For instance HOW MANY TIMES do conservatives have to go on about Obama and a teleprompter when it is in fact well documented that other Presidents and Republican candidate use them as well. But, hey, it’s a nice line to repeat. Just like the constant posts and talk about Obama’s golf when there are tons of pictures and articles noting other Presidents (such as Eisenhower) played the game.
Bachmann is a exaggerated manifestation of the Republican Party’s talk radio political culture. But just as there are fact checkers, there are numbers checkers in Congress. Avlon details areas that are raising eyebrows and sparking a look at her campaign in Congress, then writes:
In the end, it seems the only people who profited from Bachmann’s face-plant of a presidential campaign were the consultants. The only lasting legacy has been the lawsuits. While junior staffers say they still haven’t been paid, Guy Short’s C&M Strategies received a total of $157,000 from MichelePAC between January 2011 and July 2012, when Bachmann was primarily preoccupied with presidential pursuits, according to FEC filings.
Now the prospect of a House Ethics Committee investigation into Bachmann’s presidential campaign adds an additional indignity to the self-inflicted disasters of her political career. Demagoguery eventually brings dishonor. And her most passionate supporters ought to consider what it means when the people who know Bachmann best respect her the least.
There is a cost to playing fast and loose with the truth, former staffers say—and not just in terms of escalating legal fees and overlapping investigations. “A lot of hearts were broken, a lot of lives were hurt by the behavior of the senior staff of the Bachmann campaign,” says Waldron. “She’s entangled in a cyclone. She can’t get out.”
But when you listen to her speeches and continued exaggerations you have to conclude this:
She really doesn’t seem to want to get out.
Which is why Ed Rollins…got out.