This been a very, very bad year for Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). Her 2012 presidential ambitions ran into the squall of a sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, a large drop from a height peaking at her campaign winning the influential Ames Straw Poll. And now she finds herself mired in an ethics investigation, with her former chief of staff expected to tell an ethics panel that she made illegal payments during her 2012 presidential campaign.
The Bachmann investigation has been brewing ever since her presidential run crashed and sunk harder than the Titanic on its maiden voyage. Nearly all of the allegations come from the ill-fated run and provide a fascinating glimpse in to the murky world of campaign finance and possibly an entire presidential campaign gone awry.
It all started in January, roughly a week before the person she hoped to run against, President Barack Obama, would be sworn into office for a second term. One of Bachmann's top advisors, Peter Waldron, Bachmann’s former national field coordinator during her presidential campaign, filed a complaint of alleged campaign finance violations to the Federal Election Commission. He accused the campaign of taking money from MichelePAC, the superPAC formed to assist Bachmann's presidential run, to pay campaign employee Guy Short. That constitutes a violation of campaign finance laws which prevent PACs from contributing to campaigns. He also alleged that the campaign made concealed payments to Iowa State Chairman and State Senator Kent Sorenson. Iowa senate rules state that Sorenson cannot perform paid work for a presidential campaign.
Things only got worse as the year went by. News broke that the Office of Congressional Ethics was investigating the charges in March. The OCE is an organization formed to investigate ethics violation and forward them to the House Ethics Committee if it sees smoke. The agency was created to take tips and allegation from sources that are not members of Congress, a significant loophole in the HEC's rulebook. In additional Waldron allegations, a former Iowa staff member levied an additional claim that the Bachmann campaign stole a database of names and e-mails of Christian home-schooled families in Iowa. The complaint is the center of a lawsuit against the Bachmann campaign. The lawsuit is backed by a sworn affidavit from a former Bachmann staffer, Eric Woolson.
When asked about the allegations earlier in April, Bachmann was evasive, as seen in this video below:
Barely a week passed after that press conference and yet another allegation emerged against the Bachmann campaign, this time regarding the book tour of her autobiography, Core of Conviction. Federal election rules state that candidates are barred from using campaign funds and resources to sell or promote their own books, which are considered outside business activities. The allegation states that top Bachmann campaign staffers assisted in the book tour. Schedules, bus manifests, e-mails, and photos were submitted as evidence. Core of Conviction sold a mere 3,000 copies.
And in the final twist to this very strange saga, it was revealed on Thursday that Bachmann's former Chief of Staff Andy Parrish would testify in an Iowa Senate ethics panel. Parrish is testimony is widely expected to tell the ethics panel that the campaign made improper payments to Kent Sorenson. Sorenson was the target of the earlier ethics complaint made by Waldron. If his testimony is taken accurate, it would be a huge development in all of the investigations that have surrounded the Bachmann campaign.
Congresswoman Bachmann has denied all of the allegations, claiming that they are politically motivated, despite nearly all of the allegations coming from both former staff members and fellow Republicans. As the investigation rolls forward this story can only get more convoluted as new details come to light.