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Bachmann focused on House race, not presidential campaign debt

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Michele Bachmann
Sixth District Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, seen here in a file photo, is focused on her congressional campaign even though the presidential campaign she ended in early January still owes more than $1 million.
MPR File Photo/Tim Nelson

Even though Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is still more than $1 million in debt from her presidential campaign, she's trying to amass another record-breaking re-election war chest. 

Her fundraising now is focused on her congressional campaign. Bachmann raised a record $13.5 million for her last congressional re-election campaign. And two years ago that congressional campaign had more than $1.5 million cash on hand. That's more than twice what she had in the bank at the same time this year.

And unlike her last re-election effort when the tea party was coming into its own and Bachmann was a rising star, she's now an unsuccessful presidential candidate.

"She's trying to raise money to both pay off a debt and to also gear up for a new congressional campaign and that's where the real difficulty is," said Hamline University political science professor David Schultz.

HITTING A FUNDRAISING WALL?

He said Bachmann may be running into a fundraising wall. Evidence suggests her presidential fundraising stalled because her small donors were tapped out, Schultz said.

"That may be the same problem she's facing now going into her congressional campaign," he said. "We don't know that yet." 

In a news release announcing her first quarter congressional fundraising of more than $550,000 Bachmann claimed to be "on a on a very strong trajectory." Bachmann declined to comment for this story but last month suggested she would break records once again.

"No other member of Congress in the history of the United States Congress has ever raised more money for election, and I'll do it again this time as well," Bachmann said.

In fact, Bachmann's quarterly take was higher than any other Minnesota incumbent House member. Bachmann also said last month that reporting about her presidential campaign debt was misleading. 

Her campaign said stories failed to take into account the cash Bachmann's presidential campaign had in the bank. But if you subtract the the cash on hand number from the latest debt total, Bachmann's presidential campaign still owes $817,490.

NO DEADLINE FOR OLD BILLS

Paul Ryan, the associate legal counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said he's not surprised Bachmann is concentrating on building cash for her congressional re-election effort rather than paying off her presidential campaign debt. 

"Any politician's first priority is going to be fueling their future political ambitions, not dealing with their failed past political ambitions," Ryan said.

Ryan said Bachmann can pay her presidential campaign debt whenever she wants to. Some campaigns never pay off their debt. Bachmann insists she'll make good on her presidential campaign bills.

Ryan said she can worry about the debt after she's re-elected to Congress.

"Raising money for old debt isn't much fun. That being said, when someone remains in office they are typically capable of raising money to retire old debt as well as to fund future campaigns because what a lot of donors really want is access to and influence over office holders and they don't much care what the money is being used for," Ryan said.

Political science professor David Schultz said lingering presidential campaign debt could become an issue in Bachmann's congressional run.

"One may be able to use this in terms of saying, 'She can't manage her own campaign; how do we expect her to manage the federal government?' Although I suspect that would be an issue that comes pretty far down the line in term of other things that people exploit," Schultz said.

Despite her debt and lack of cash relative to her 2010 congressional re-election campaign, Schultz said Bachmann has a lot of advantages. She's a well-known three-term incumbent running in a conservative district that became even more Republican following the latest round of redistricting.