If Michele Bachmann Is a Crook, So Is Barack Obama

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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I'm not naturally inclined to sympathy toward Republican Representative Michele Bachmann. She is a demagogue. She is a loon. And as much as any individual, she has made a sizable contribution to the dumbing down and degradation of a once-great political party.

Today, the New York Times reports that she is also the subject of a federal investigation into whether an independent super-PAC coordinated with her 2012 presidential campaign, in violation of election laws:

The Department of Justice demanded records from the super Pac last week of its finances and communications with Mrs. Bachmann; Marcus Bachmann, her husband; and former staff members, according to a grand jury subpoena reviewed by the New York Times.

Bachmann, who finished first among Republicans in the Iowa straw poll and last in the Iowa caucuses (after which she withdrew), has been dogged by controversies stemming from her uniquely hapless campaign. She is the subject of a House ethics committee investigation into her campaign finances and use of staff. She recently settled a suit accusing her of stealing a mailing list of home-schoolers. And allegations that her campaign improperly paid an Iowa Republican politician are unresolved.

The woman is reckless -- with rules as with facts -- and she displays a contempt for truth that should disqualify her from public offices far beneath the one she holds. Legal consequences from her serial mess-ups almost certainly influenced her decision to make this term in Congress her last.

But being the subject of an investigation into improper campaign coordination is almost by definition an injustice. Here's how the Times described the problem:


Coordination between a campaign and a super PAC violates federal election law if it meets certain criteria, said Paul S. Ryan, a senior counsel at the independent Campaign Legal Center.

Translation: The law is such a convoluted morass that it would take the rest of the article to explain "certain criteria," so let's just move on. In practice, the prohibition on coordination is honored almost exclusively by the hypocrisy it engenders. Does anyone seriously contend that the advertising buys of the super-PACs that supported Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 were uncoordinated with the strategic needs of the respective campaigns?

The very idea is ridiculous. But competent super-PAC operators such as Bill Burton and Karl Rove are skilled professionals who know how to follow the letter of the law while grinding its feeble spirit into itty-bitty pieces.

Bachmann's campaign lacked a similar awareness (or competence). It also employed someone who appears to have a vendetta, which doesn't help. In a sensible, ethical world, Bachmann and her ilk would be hounded from public office in shame. But a sensible, ethical world wouldn't be regulated by the shabby patchwork of campaign finance laws that sorta, kinda regulate American political campaigns. If Bachmann is prosecuted for coordinating with a super-PAC, then Rove, Burton, Romney, Obama and the rest should be in the dock with her.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net