WASHINGTON — Congressional ethics investigators are pursuing allegations of financial impropriety in Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, according to several attorneys and former staffers involved in the case.
The investigation comes after one of her top campaign lieutenants filed a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint earlier this year alleging improper payments to a state official in Iowa who is now the subject of a criminal probe in connection with the campaign’s use of an email list of Iowa home-school families.
An attorney for Bachmann’s campaign Monday denied any wrongdoing on her part.
But the inquiry by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics adds to a mounting list of legal problems stemming from the waning days of her presidential campaign, including an ongoing police investigation and a lawsuit over the email list.
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A spokesman for Bachmann’s congressional office suggested that the disclosure of the new ethics review, though it originates with staffers in her own campaign, was engineered by political adversaries.
“Unfortunately, the disclosure of the existence of this review is a predictable and politically motivated attack by Congresswoman Bachmann’s political adversaries in an attempt to disparage her reputation as a top-target of the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and Democratic Super PACs,” said Bachmann spokesman Dan Kotman. “They are willing to do or say anything in an attempt to defeat her in 2014.”
The new ethics probe, first reported in the Daily Beast, could lead to sanctions by the U.S. House, though few of the office’s inquiries go that far.
The allegations against Bachmann stem largely from the FEC complaint filed by Peter Waldron, a well-known evangelist who served as the campaign’s national field coordinator for outreach to Christian conservatives.
Waldron, a controversial figure who once was arrested for possession of assault rifles in Uganda, accused the Bachmann campaign in January of withholding payments to former staffers who refused to sign confidentiality agreements. He also filed papers alleging campaign-finance violations involving the campaign and MichelePAC, her independent political-action committee.
According to his FEC complaint, the campaign improperly used MichelePAC money to pay longtime fundraising consultant Guy Short in the final months leading up to the January 2012 Iowa caucuses.
Waldron also has accused the campaign of concealing payments to Iowa state campaign chairman Kent Sorenson, a state senator who abruptly left the Bachmann camp to join then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign.
Sorenson’s attorney, Ted Sporer, also denied allegations made in a lawsuit by Barbara Heki, a former Bachmann campaign worker who says Sorenson took an email list of Iowa home-schoolers from her personal computer in the campaign’s Urbandale, Iowa, office.
Waldron said he spoke to Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, on three different occasions in late 2011 and early 2012 to raise concerns about the email list and the alleged campaign-finance violations. He said he spoke to ethics investigators last month about both sets of allegations, although he believes the new probe is primarily focused on the potential FEC violations.
“What she knows and doesn’t know, I think is important,” Waldron said Monday. “And when she knew.”