Michele Bachmann: Ethics Violations Could End Her Political Career

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) may not be running for reelection in 2014, but the allegations surrounding prior elections could follow her well into the future.

Bachmann's campaign activities are currently being investigated by several different agencies: the FBI, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, a special investigator appointed by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, and the Urbandale, Iowa, police department. The investigations are related to Bachmann's run in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Bachmann had come in first in the 2011 Ames straw poll in Iowa, but dropped out of the race early in January 2012 after coming in sixth in the Iowa caucuses. Staffers on Bachmann's campaign say that illegal, under-the-table payments were made to Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R) for his support, and that Sorenson stole a mailing list. Moreover, the whistle-blowers claim that they faced retaliation after reporting the theft, and that Bachmann's presidential campaign illegally coordinated with her leadership PAC.

There's no telling right now how this will all shake out for Bachmann, but it's not likely to be settled anytime soon. The court date for the civil suit surrounding the alleged theft of the mailing list has been scheduled for May of next year. And the FBI, FEC, and OCEinvestigations into the other alleged improprieties could go on even longer than that.

So, what is Bachmann going to do in the meantime? Even assuming that she comes through all these investigations unscathed, it's unlikely that her unscathedness will be publicly verified in time for her to run successfully for anything — say, governor of Minnesota, or for the Senate seat held by Al Franken — in 2014. Perhaps she'll lay low in preparation for another presidential run in 2016, but her dismal showing in 2012 doesn't bode well for such an effort. The Republicans want to win back the White House, and it's hard to see them throwing their weight behind someone who was outlasted by Jon Huntsman.

If she wants to stay in the mix, politically speaking, she may have to find a way of doing it without holding public office. That's a plausible route to take — just look at Joe Scarborough and Mike Huckabee — and maybe that's what she has in mind.

Still, all of this presumes that she's in the clear on the various allegations being made against her, and that's a lot to presume. After all, Bachmann's campaign was never very big. It seems unlikely that she was so overwhelmed by the volume of contributions, donors, and staffers, that she was unaware of any illegal use of funds. Even if she was somehow unaware of what was going on, as the candidate, she's in charge, and the buck stops with her.

And the accusations come from within her campaign, not from outsiders. That doesn't mean the charges are true, but it does mean that the ongoing coverage of of the slowly-emerging details — with each side feeling betrayed — is likely to get ugly.

My suspicion is that that's why Bachmann decided against running for the House of Representatives without laying out any clear plan for her political future: because her immediate priority is to fend off these multiple allegations, which she believes will be a difficult task made even worse by the added effort and attention involved in running for reelection. If that's the case, though, there's a good chance that she may not even complete her term in the 113th Congress. Being a sitting member of Congress may be too much of a complication.

We'll probably learn more about Bachmann's fate once the FBI, FEC, and OCE conclude their respective investigations, which one of them may well do before the year is out. I'm guessing that, even if they don't level charges against her, the details that come out will be far from flattering for Bachmann, and will ultimately force her out of politics.

Now, I could be wrong. Maybe she's completely innocent. Or maybe Bachmann is guilty on every count and nonetheless winds up being elected president after all. Marion Barry and Ted Kennedy managed to get reelected despite doing far worse.

But, as of now. this looks like Bachmann is at the center of one of those scandals that winds up being a career-ender.