WASHINGTON — Representative Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican whose status as a leading voice of the Tea Party movement in Congress has faded in the wake of a failed presidential bid and a widening investigation into her campaign spending, said Wednesday that she would not seek reelection.
Bachmann, defiant as ever as she insisted that she would have won reelection had she tried, also 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 website. “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.”
Bachmann spent heavily in her last congressional campaign and eked out a victory by less than 2 percentage points. She would have been one of the Democrats’ top targets in the 2014 elections, but her decision not to run by no means guarantees them a victory in the conservative-leaning district.
In addition to a tough fight for reelection, Bachmann also 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 its own review of Bachmann and her staff since early this year.
That inquiry, first disclosed in March, is either near its conclusion or has already resulted in a recommendation for a formal investigation by the House Ethics Committee, given that there is a strict time limit of about 100 days for how long these preliminary investigations can go on.
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported this month that the FBI was also conducting an inquiry, joining the Federal Election Commission and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee on the growing list of investigative bodies examining her campaign activity.
Among the allegations Bachmann is facing is 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 caucuses. She has also been accused of improperly using her presidential campaign staff to help promote her book, “Core of Conviction.”
Bachmann’s lawyer, William McGinley, declined to comment Wednesday.
Top Democrats said they took her decision not as a sign that the influence of the Tea Party movement was on the wane 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 was 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, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “What really concerns me now is the competition that will emerge in the House GOP to fill her shoes. That competition is going to pull House Republicans even further to the right of where they are now.”
In her video announcement, 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. “And I will continue to work vehemently and robustly to fight back against what most in the other party want to do to transform our country into becoming, which would be a nation that our founders would hardly even recognize today.”
Given the uncertain legal and political path that she faced, a new career in the private sector may have presented a more attractive option.
Like other conservative politicians with a national profile — Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum — Bachmann may find numerous options, many of them lucrative, available to her in talk radio, television, advocacy for conservative causes, and the speaking circuit.
So far, at least one option for a postpolitics career seems to be off the table.
A spokeswoman for Fox News, a coveted landing spot for conservative politicians once they exit public office, said it had no discussions with Bachmann about joining the network.