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Last Friday, news broke that the FBI is investigating allegations that the 2012 presidential campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) violated federal laws by not disclosing payments to an Iowa state senator, improperly coordinated with her PAC, and tried to silence whistleblowing staffers. Bachmann has responded by pointing out that the allegations, which first surfaced in January, don’t directly accuse her of any wrongdoing. Still, some political observers believe that the allegations could spell the end her Congressional career when she faces off against the same Democrat she narrowly defeated in 2012.
How did this all begin? In January, Peter Waldron, Bachmann’s former national field coordinator, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. Waldron, a Florida evangelist who did outreach work to Christian conservatives for Bachmann in Iowa, alleged that her campaign violated federal statutes in five separate incidents:
Deliberately concealing monthly payments of about $7,500 to Bachmann’s former Iowa chairman, Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson, over the course of about seven months, in an attempt to dodge a state ethics rule prohibiting senators from doing paid campaign work. Waldron alleged that Bachmann’s political action committee, Michele PAC, funneled undisclosed payments to Sorenson through the fundraising firm C&M Strategies (PDF).
Improperly using Michele PAC to pay C&M Strategies $40,000 for consulting work while the firm’s owner, Guy Short, served as Bachmann’s national political director in the two months leading up to the Iowa caucuses. PACs can’t get involved in actual campaigns. Short responded to the allegation by claiming that he was simply a campaign volunteer and was paid separately for his consulting work.
Improperly coordinating with the National Fiscal Conservative PAC to set up TV and radio ad buys. The National Fiscal Conservative PAC is a so-called hybrid PAC that combines a super-PAC and traditional PAC provided they keep their fiscal affairs separate. The super-PAC part can raise unlimited funds but is prohibited from using them to coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.
Violating whistleblower protection laws. In July 2012, former campaign staff member Barb Heki filed a lawsuit against Bachmann and campaign aides, including Short and Sorenson, alleging that Sorenson stole an email list of Christian home-school advocates from her private computer to use for the campaign. As of January, several firms and former campaign staff, including Heki, said they had not been fully reimbursed for their work on the campaign. Waldron believes that Heki may have not been paid in retaliation for her lawsuit.
“Extortion.” When Waldron asked Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, to help resolve the issue of unpaid staff, the campaign responded by having those staff members sign non-disclosure forms requiring them to consult with campaign lawyers before talking to police or other lawyers about campaign activities. That, Waldron suggested, amounted to an effort to sabotage Heki’s lawsuit and criminal complaint.