Published: May 29, 2013
WASHINGTON — Representative Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican whose status as a leading Tea Party voice in Congress has faded in the wake of a failed bid for president and a widening investigation into her campaign spending, said Wednesday that she would not seek re-election.
Mrs. Bachmann, defiant as ever as she insisted that she would have won re-election had she tried, said the legal inquiries had nothing to do with her decision. She vowed to continue to fight for the principles she said she holds dear: religious liberty, traditional marriage, family values and opposition to abortion.
“I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision not to seek a fifth term,” she said in a gauzy network-television quality video posted on her campaign Web site. “They always seemed to attempt to find a dishonest way to disparage me. But I take being the focus of their attention and disparagement as a true compliment of my public service effectiveness.”
Like other conservative politicians with a national profile — Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum — Mrs. Bachmann, 57, may find numerous options, many of them lucrative, available to her in talk radio, television, advocacy for conservative causes and the speaking circuit.
Given the uncertain political and legal paths that she faced, a new career in the private sector may have presented a more attractive option.
Mrs. Bachmann spent heavily in her last Congressional campaign and eked out a victory by less than two percentage points. Her opponent in that race had already declared his intention to run against her again in 2014. And so far this year her fund-raising has been paltry.
Mrs. Bachmann raised less than $700,000 during the first three months of the year, according to the most recent federal disclosures. That is less than half of what she raised during the same period in 2011.
In addition to a tough fight for re-election, Mrs. Bachmann faces growing legal troubles. The Office of Congressional Ethics, a quasi-independent House agency that acts like a grand jury to examine allegations of ethics violations, has been conducting a review of Mrs. Bachmann and her staff since early this year.
That inquiry, first disclosed in March, will soon result either in a move to dismiss the allegations or a recommendation for a formal investigation by the House Ethics Committee, as there is a strict time limit of about 100 days for how long such preliminary investigations can go on.
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported this month that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was conducting its own investigation, joining the Federal Election Commission and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee on the growing list of investigative bodies looking into her campaign activity.
Mrs. Bachmann’s lawyer, William McGinley, declined to comment on Wednesday.
Mrs. Bachmann is facing allegations that her campaign improperly used money from an affiliated political action committee, MichelePAC, to pay a fund-raising consultant who worked for her during the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Her campaign has also been accused of making secret and improper payments to Kent Sorenson, an Iowa state senator and popular Republican conservative leader in the state, in advance of the nominating caucuses. And she has been accused of improperly using her presidential campaign staff to help promote her book, “Core of Conviction.”
Given her growing troubles, Mrs. Bachmann would have been one of the Democrats’ top targets in the 2014 elections. But now they are left with an unknown opponent in a conservative-leaning district who will probably not have her political baggage.
Top Democrats said they took her decision not as a sign that the Tea Party movement’s influence was on the decline in Congress — where a recent spate of controversies involving the Obama administration has emboldened Republicans — but as a reason to believe that the political right is only just getting revved up.
“Michele Bachmann is not retiring because she thinks her Tea Party views are out of touch; she’s retiring because she’s under investigation,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “What really concerns me now is the competition that will emerge in the House G.O.P. to fill her shoes. That competition is going to pull House Republicans even further to the right of where they are now.”
Though she was not always a reliable “yes” vote when the House Republican leadership needed her, Mrs. Bachmann enjoys the trust of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who thanked her on Wednesday for her service and called her “a courageous voice for freedom in the people’s House.”
She was never as problematic as some of the other members of the Tea Party Caucus, a group she founded in 2010, though she did have a history of making provocative statements that sometimes drew unwanted attention because they were either unprovable or false. Just this month she said it was fair to ask — given the Internal Revenue Service’s recent disclosure it had targeted conservatives — whether the Obama administration might deny health care benefits to people it disagrees with politically.
And at a prayer service in the Capitol recently, she suggested that God’s judgment was responsible for the attacks on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. “Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on Sept. 11,” she said.
In a video announcing her decision, Mrs. Bachmann indicated that she had no plans to withdraw from the limelight. “I will continue to do everything I can to advance our conservative constitutional principles that have served as the bedrock for who we are as a nation,” she said.
So far, at least one option for a post-politics career seems to be off the table. A spokeswoman for Fox News, a coveted landing spot for conservative politicians who leave public office, said it has had no discussions with Mrs. Bachmann about joining the network.
Eric Lipton and Derek Willis contributed reporting.