House Ethics Committee to review Bachmann case

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., campaigning in New Hampshire in 2011 (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)

WASHINGTON – An independent U.S. House ethics panel has referred an investigation of the financial activities of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign to the House Ethics Committee.

The Office of Congressional Ethics announced Tuesday that all seven cases in its docket had been referred to the Ethics Committee. The OCE operates under confidentiality rules that prohibit it from naming the targets of its probes, but due to leaks and media reports it was widely known that Bachmann’s case was under investigation by the office.

Bachmann’s lawyer, William McGinley, confirmed that her case had been referred to the committee.  McGinley welcomed the chance for the “fair-minded and capable professionals” of the House Ethics Committee to review the case and said he was, “confident  [they] will dismiss all allegations in this matter.”

There are multiple issues with Bachmann’s presidential campaign the OCE has reportedly been looking into, including whether some campaign staff were paid via a separate political action committee in violation of campaign finance rules and whether campaign resources were used to promote Bachmann’s autobiography, which was published during her White House bid. The Federal Election Commission and FBI are also looking into the campaign’s activities.

It’s not clear from the OCE release which of the complaints against Bachmann were referred to the committee, though McGinley said the OCE did recommend some be dismissed.

The OCE, which operates independently from the Ethics Committee, has been investigating various allegations around the improper use of campaign resources since at least March, when news of the probe was first reported. The OCE has the power to start investigations and can refer ones it believes warrant more scrutiny to the Ethics Committee, which is controlled directly by members of Congress.

Now that the case has been referred to the Ethics Committee, the top Republican and Democrat on the panel can informally investigate the matter further before deciding to form a special investigative subcommittee, release the OCE report to the public or hold a vote to dismiss the matter. If the committee, which has equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, votes for a dismissal, the OCE report will not be released.

McGinley criticized the OCE’s second quarter report which revealed the referral, calling it a “shameful publicity stunt that undermines the confidentiality provisions designed to protect Members of Congress from undue prejudice.” The office was established in 2008 after a series of congressional scandals had tarnished Congress’s reputation, but members have chafed at the office’s independence and argued that word of its investigations does little more than drag members’ names into the mud.