Bachmann restarts PAC fundraising, even without a race
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is not running for re-election, but that doesn't mean she's done raising money.
After essentially going dormant for almost a year, Bachmann's political action committee, MichelePAC, is again sending out email fundraising solicitations. Some MichelePAC donors, though, might be surprised by what their money is being spent on.
In 2013 the PAC raised a little more than $250,000. With the exception of fundraising costs, MichelePAC spent more on legal bills in 2013 than anything else. Law firms ate up 36 percent of its revenue. Just 5 cents of every dollar MichelePAC raised ended up going to campaigns.
MichelePAC isn't required to report its early 2014 fundraising until the middle of next month, so nobody but the political action committee knows who's given what this year.
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Politicians, though, often spend their leadership PAC money on all kinds of things that have nothing to do with what they say the PAC is for, said Paul Ryan, director of the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan campaign finance watchdog.
"My mantra to donors is donors beware," Ryan said. "If you're going to cut a check to a candidate or an officeholder and they're putting it into their leadership PAC, then who knows what you're paying for," he added. "You very well may not be paying for legitimate political expenses."
That's because unlike the money candidates raise for their campaigns, leadership PAC money can be spent on virtually anything. The only restriction on leadership PAC money is that candidates can't promote their own campaigns with it. "They have turned into slush funds," Ryan said. "We think it's a ridiculous use of donor money."
Bachmann ended 2013 with more than $1.7 million in her congressional campaign account which is entirely separate from her MichelePAC operation. Bachmann can hold on to that congressional campaign money and use it for a potential future campaign.
"I'm not going to give any more money."
But she can't use that pot of money for anything that's not directly related to her own campaign.
Bachmann can basically do whatever she wants with MichelePAC money.
Washington University political science professor Steven Smith says MichelePAC may be back with its email fundraising now because negative news has faded about allegations related to her 2012 presidential campaign. The allegations were that Bachmann violated campaign finance laws by routing money from the leadership PAC to her presidential campaign.
"Now that the ethics investigation seems to have really gone nowhere, she might now feel like she's capable of raising money and that it won't be seen as tainted and that people will be excited to see her again," Smith said.
MichelePAC stands for "Many Individual Conservatives Helping Elect Leaders Everywhere." It's what's called a "leadership political action committee." Bachmann said she started it in 2010 to help elect like-minded constitutional conservatives across the country.
In the 2010 election cycle MichelePAC contributed 26 percent of its receipts to campaigns and political committees. In the 2012 cycle that fell to 14 percent.
In a recent appeal for cash MichelePAC told donors their money is needed to help keep the Republican majority in the House and bring a GOP majority to the Senate without draining resources from Bachmann's "own re-election campaign."
Bachmann, however, isn't running for re-election, and if the PAC's spending in the past year is any indication, the vast majority of the money it collects will not go to House and Senate candidates or the political committees that work on their behalf.
Texas construction consultant Dennis Doyle gave MichelePac $175 last year.
When Doyle heard that just 5 cents of every dollar MichelePAC collected 2013 went to candidates and political committees, he did not sound surprised. But he wasn't happy either. He said he's done.
"I was interested in Michele Bachmann initially because her ideas sounded pretty straight forward," Doyle said. "I'm not going to give any more money."
Bachmann declined to be interviewed for this story.
MichelePAC released a statement saying the congresswoman's PAC operates consistent with her goal of supporting constitutional conservatives. The statement also said Bachmann intends to "remain actively involved in shaping the national debate."