Today, Representative Bachmann announced that she would not seek re-election in 2014 to Congress. In a video statement, she denied that her decision was related in any way to the reported investigations relating to her 2012 presidential campaign, or to any fear she might not be re-elected. But whatever may be her particular situation, the reports of the concurrent investigations illustrate the unique problems politicians face, when fending off these sorts of charges:
First is the effect of the investigations themselves. The Justice Department, Federal Election Commission, and congressional ethics investigators all operate under confidentiality restrictions. But sometimes leaks happen, and in any case, an investigation that contacts multiple witnesses has a strong possibility of generating media reports. For example, in May 2010, the Office of Congressional Ethics initiated reviews into the conduct of eight Members of Congress, who reportedly held campaign fundraisers while the House was considering financial services reform the previous year. In less than three weeks, the Wall Street Journal had the names of the lawmakers. Because OCE operates under strict timetables to conclude its confidential reviews, the Members faced media pressure to disclose the outcomes. Ultimately, OCE recommended dismissal of the matters for four of them, and the Ethics Committee found that none violated the rules. But the early press disclosures were not without impact.
Second, as Jonathan Berkon observes in his piece on the controversy surrounding former Senator John Ensign, separate investigations can affect each other, propelling them in unexpected directions. They can also interfere with one another. For example, one agency might reach a conclusion that the others would reject.
Finally, the investigations present unusual challenges in dealing with the media. A knowledgeable media consultant, Mike Feldman of the Glover Park Group, Tweeted that Representative Bachmann’s announcement video looked “more like a deposition,” with “[v]ery carefully worded references to her campaign finance controversy.” This may have been the product of attorney-driven caution. But there is another potential explanation as well. Representative Bachmann may have been receiving advice from several different quarters: attorneys, political consultants, House staff, friends, family and others, perhaps with none having a dominant role. Even in normal circumstances, crafting a public statement that meets everyone’s objectives and preferences can be extraordinarily challenging.
The actual pressures faced and being addressed by Representative Bachmann cannot be known. But the experience of others who have found themselves in a similar position suggests what those pressures might be.