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Jun 20th, 2009


Hard Times, But Not in the House

Rep. Michele Bachmann sits in a chair.
Rep. Michele Bachmann spent more than $100,000 on printing and franked mail in the first quarter. Her chief of staff said the filings included the office’s biggest mass mailing of this year and that she expects lower printing and mailing costs over the rest of the year. (Photo credit: John Shinkle / Politico)

By Melanie Mason
POLITICO.com Logo - Click to return to home page
June 19, 2009

Excerpts

While businesses across the country are cutting back, members of the House saw their own office budgets increase by an average of 7 percent between 2008 and 2009.

House officials say the increase is because of — not in spite of — the nation’s economic woes.

“The demands on member offices have increased dramatically during our nation’s current financial crisis, and staff have been called on to work harder and smarter to ensure that we are meeting those growing needs,” Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, said in a statement provided to POLITICO.

An office’s budget — called the Member’s Representational Allowance — is meant to cover the day-to-day costs of running a congressional office: staff payroll, travel expenses, rent for district offices and the like. The average MRA for 2009 is nearly $1.5 million, up almost $100,000 over 2008. […]

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who supported the freeze in congressional salaries, believes the House should take the next step and freeze members office budgets, too.

“Americans are tightening their fiscal belts, and Congressman Sessions believes that Congress should do the same — including freezing member salary and office account spending levels,” said Emily Davis, Sessions’ communications director. […]

Brady said the House puts “a tremendous amount of effort … into ensuring that we exercise good stewardship in the use of taxpayer funds, while also making sure that the MRA allows member offices to have the staff and resources necessary to effectively represent their constituents.”

Members account for the expenditures quarterly, and an analysis of the first-quarter 2009 MRA reports shows dramatically different burn rates. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) each spent more than $380,000 during the three-month period — more than $100,000 more than the average first-quarter spending.

For West Coasters McDermott and Watson, travel expenses figured prominently in their first-quarter reports. Bachmann, by contrast, spent a significant portion of her MRA — more than $100,000 — on printing and franked mail. Her chief of staff, Michelle Marston, said that the first-quarter filings included the offices biggest mass mailing of the year, a primer on constituent services that is sent throughout the district, and that she anticipates a reduction in printing and mailing costs over the rest of the year. […]

Some of the thriftiest members of the first quarter include Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), each of whom spent less than $175,000. […]

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Commentary

It’s startling that a self-described “fiscal conservative” could be such a spendthrift when it’s other people’s money with which she is entrusted. Rep. Bachmann is a profligate office spender, with much of her wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars devoted to vanity mailings.

When it comes to fiduciary responsibility, Rep. Bachmann does not walk the talk.

Video: 
Capitol Hill
Hey, big spender (MSNBC, June 19, 2009) — Playbook: In the past, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has accused President Barack Obama of being a reckless spender. In today’s ‘Playbook’ segment, MSNBC’s Ed Schultz talks about the outrageous amount of taxpayers’ money that Bachmann herself has spent. (02:01)

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Related reports

Bachmann’s Office is a Top Spender in the First Quarter

By Eric Roper
StarTribune.com blogs
June 19, 2009

A Politico story and graphic this morning on the budgets of members of Congress revealed that Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is the third-highest spender among her colleagues in the House of Representatives so far this year. Before April, Bachmann spent $380,637, which the story notes is $100,000 more than the average in the House during the first quarter. Her annual budget of 1.4 million, known as the Member’s Representational Allowance, is ranked 12th out of the 441 members of the House (including non-voting members).

The highest expenses have been printing and franked mail, totalling more than $100,000, which Bachmann’s chief of staff told the paper was the result of them sending out their largest mailing early in the year.

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Bachmann is a Big Spender of Taxpayers’ $$$

DumpBachmann blog
June 19, 2009

“… Bachmann is always complaining about government spending, but Bachmann is no different than her mentor George Bush when it comes to wasting the taxpayers’ $$$.”

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What Recession? House Office Budgets Go Up

By Jim Abrams

June 19, 2009

Excerpts

WASHINGTON — The recession and rising joblessness has millions of Americans cutting their household budgets, but times are flush for lawmakers.

The House of Representatives, with little comment or opposition, on Friday approved an 8 percent increase in the budget for members’ office expenses.

House members will get an average $1.5 million in the budget year starting in October to run their Washington and district offices and cover travel and other official expenses. Overall, the budget for what the House calls members’ representational allowances, or MRAs, will jump $51 million to $660 million. […]

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said it was “more than ironic that Congress is going in the opposite direction” at a time when most businesses, including those now being run by Washington, are trying to find ways to reduce spending.

“It shows a lack of understanding of how people are getting along these days,” he said. […]

The MRA budget has risen from $555 million in fiscal 2007 to $580 million in 2008 and $609 million this year. […]

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who heads the Appropriations Committee panel in charge of the spending bill, said Congress can’t compete with salaries and benefits offered by the private sector. They are increasing the MRA “so that we can grow salaries” and “make sure we hold on to the best and brightest.” […]

But Jordan Forbes, federal government affairs manager for the National Taxpayers Union, said the increase was “fiscally reckless” in the current economic atmosphere. “Congress is losing its credibility when it tries to make the argument that it is doing everything it can to get the economy back on track.” She said how a member votes on the spending bill will be considered in the NTU’s ratings of lawmakers. […]

The bill is H.R. 2918.

———

Note: The bill passed 232-178 on a mostly party-line vote, with 23 members not voting, inluding Rep. Michele Bachmann (Roll no. 413).

Update: The DumpBachmann blog reports that Rep. Bachmann did not vote because she was with her dying stepmother.

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Tips on How Congressional Offices Can Cut Costs

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann on election night 2006.
(Photo credit: AP / Star Tribune — Carlos Gonzalez)

By the Editorial Board
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 19, 2009

There probably is no more ominous sign of end times than when the Post-Dispatch editorial page agrees with a position announced by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.

Politico, the inside-the-beltway political news site, reported last week that members of the U.S. House of Representatives allowed their budgets for running their congressional offices to rise a handsome 7 percent between 2008 and 2009. No layoffs or unpaid furloughs for them.

The yearly allotments — called the Member Representational Allowances, or MRAs — differ district to district. Virtually all range between $1.4 million and $1.6 million a year. The money pays for staff, travel expenses and the like.

Mr. Sessions — a Dallas lawmaker best known for outlandishly conservative views, connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff  and an admirable devotion to the Boy Scouts of America — favors a freeze.

“Americans are tightening their fiscal belts” and “Congress should do the same — including … office account spending levels,” he told Politico through a spokesperson.

Right you are, Pete. Though were saddened that your office said you had no plans to reduce your own office expenses.

Each office received a bump of about $100,000 this year, about 15 cents per constituent. It shouldn’t be too tough for lawmakers to forgo the increase. Here are some suggestions:

¢ Double up. Members are permitted to have “shared employees.” Think of the efficiencies that would be gained if only one House employee was required to laugh at members’ jokes.

¢ Use public transit. Vast sections of the House Manual, a sort of rule book for lawmakers, are devoted to parking spaces and rental vehicles. Members could save taxpayers a bundle by using public transit: D.C.’s Metro system even offers them a discount.

¢ Save postage. Don’t mail out those newsletters. Nobody believes them, anyway.

¢ Shut up. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., one of the House’s biggest spenders in the first quarter, spends a lot of time making stupid statements on TV, such as “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under Democrat President Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it is an interesting coincidence.”

Actually swine flu broke out under President Gerald Ford, a Republican. Think of the time her staff spends apologizing.

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12/4/2009 Update

Bachmann a Member of House’s Million-Franking Club

By Chris Steller
The Minnesota Independent
December 4, 2009

Michele Bachmann speaks to national TV audiences an average of once every nine days, but the Minnesota congresswoman makes extra-sure that voters in her district hear from her directly: She sent more than 1 million email messages or print mailings to them last quarter using her congressional franking privilege.

Only six others in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives can make that claim.

The million-franking club is exclusively Republican and mostly Southern, including (besides Bachmann) two representatives from Florida (Vern Buchanan and Ginny Brown-Waite), and one each from Georgia (John Barrow), Texas (Pete Olson), Oklahoma (Tom Cole) and California (Dan Lungren).

The rest of Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation wasn’t nearly as moved to communicate. Freshman Republican Erik Paulsen led the pack with 463,607 messages sent from July through September — not even half Bachmann’s 1,000,534. His GOP colleague, John Kline, sent 280,115. Among Democrats, Betty McCollum led with 119,380. Tim Walz sent 105,174, Jim Oberstar sent 1,595, and Keith Ellison and Collin Peterson tallied zero: neither sent any one communication to more than 500 people, the minimum tally to qualify for the House’s recordkeeping.

Bachmann’s voice will ring out Monday at a rally under the Minnesota State Capitol dome for a constitutional cap on state government spending. But the U.S. government has spent more on her franking privilege so far this year than for any other Minnesotan in the U.S. House: $105,581, or nearly 10 percent of her offices total expenses — a proportion that’s also tops in the state’s House delegation.

Bachmann’s pedal-to-the-metal franking has attracted scrutiny since arrival in Congress in 2006. Communications from her office that push limits of one kind or another continue to draw complaints.

Last month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) complained to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that Bachmann used her congressional website to draw people to a rally against health-care reform on the U.S. Capitol steps, in violation of House rules. (CREW’s complaint didn’t include the revelation in a Minnesota newspaper that Bachmann’s office steered callers to buses to attend the rally.)

In July, local bloggers filed a complaint over Bachmann’s use of government email to benefit a political organization, in this case the National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA). The OCE referred the matter to the authority that governs franking, the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards.

By the end of her first six months in Congress, Bachmann already led the Minnesota delegation in spending on constituent communications, with a cost per mailing of 46 cents per piece — about twice the price others from the state were spending.

This year’s third-quarter report, the first to be made available online, shows a cost of less than 18 cents per household for franked communication. Bachmann has been using an alternative to traditional mailings for reaching people in her district — so-called “tele-townhalls.”

Production costs for glossy mailings that once dominated her expense reports have been partly replaced by spending on mass-dialing telephone technology. From July through September, Bachmann paid tele-townhall vendor Citizen Dialog $21,500. That’s $10,000 more than she paid the U.S. Postal Service over the same period for franked mailings. …

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Background report

Michele Bachmann’s Housing Crisis is Resolved with a $1.27 Million Golf-Course Manor

http://fm.cnbc.com/applications/cnbc.com/resources/img/editorial/2011/11/04/45166563-UpdatedMichele-Bachmann-GOP-Homes.jpg
Photo credit: CNBC.com

By Karl Bremer
The Minnesota Independent
October 2, 2008

While Michele Bachmann has been busy blaming poor people and minorities for the Wall Street meltdown and housing foreclosures, she’s also been busy dealing with her own housing crisis: how to sell her toney Stillwater home and move into her new $1.27 million manor overlooking the 18th hole of Stoneridge Golf Course in West Lakeland Township.

Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, listed their 3,200-square-foot Stillwater home this summer at $359,000. It’s still for sale. Their palatial new digs on the golf course are considerably larger, at 5,200 square feet. Built in 2005 on 3.22 acres, it carried an original price tag of $1.75 million, but was listed for as low as $949,900 this summer. Its 2008 assessed value is $1,271,800, down from $1,290,500 in 2007. The Bachmanns’ purchase price is not known.

In 2007, it was featured as a “Dream Home” in the Parade of Homes tour.

“Casual elegance defined by deep rich colors and textures is presented in a European flavor throughout this four-bedroom walkout residence,” the listing read. “The stone exterior with a grand manor roof sets the stage for this dream home overlooking the 18th hole of the Stoneridge Golf Course.”

“The arched stone entry is complimented with a western red cedar distressed door with iron highlights. Once inside the foyer, iron rails and hand scraped walnut plank flooring invites you into the gallery where arched openings lead to the magnificent main floor spaces.”

“Both the formal dining adjacent to the foyer and a quaint breakfast bay overlook the golf course allowing for quality entertaining or a casual living atmosphere.”

Few amenities were spared: maple kitchen with granite and limestone countertops, powder room, wine cellar, bar, exercise room, resource room, four bathrooms, spa, fully paneled library with a see-through fireplace. And, of course, a three-car garage. …

Not bad for someone who’s never known anything but a government paycheck.

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7/26/2011 Related report

Bachmann Benefitted from Federal Home Loan Program

By

July 26, 2011

Like many members of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been a fierce critic of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, blaming the government-backed loan programs for excesses that helped create the financial meltdown in 2008.

And like millions of other home purchasers, Bachmann took out a home loan in 2008 that offered lower costs to the borrower through one of the federally subsidized programs, according to mortgage experts who reviewed her loan documents.

Just a few weeks before Bachmann called for dismantling the programs during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, she and her husband signed for a $417,000 home loan to help finance their move to a 5,200-square-foot golf-course home, public records show. Experts who examined the loan documents for The Washington Post say that they are confident the loan was backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. …

Bachmann has been the most outspoken critic of the loan programs and other government subsidies among Republican presidential candidates. …

Bachmann’s mortgage was part of a package of debt that she and her husband, Marcus, assumed to buy their home, public records show. They also have other loans, including a home equity line of credit, a business mortgage and another business loan for their Christian counseling clinics, bringing their liabilities to more than $1 million, according to the most recently available public records.

The Bachmanns’ assets, according to her latest financial disclosure statement, range between $862,018 and $2 million. …

In her public life, Bachmann has criticized government subsidies and said that federally backed home lending programs place an undue burden on taxpayers.

She also is a leading critic of expanding the federal debt limit. “When managing your family budget, you don’t spend money you don’t have,” she said in a statement last year, “and our government should be no different.”

The couple’s personal finances have come under scrutiny with disclosures that they and family members have accepted subsidies for both a family farm and for Bachmann & Associates counseling clinics. …

Full story

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3/23/2012 Related report

Bachmann Owes $1 Million in Campaign Debt

The Associated Press via the St. Cloud Times
March 23, 2012

ST. PAUL — Republican Michele Bachmann owes more than $1 million from her unsuccessful presidential bid.

The Minnesota congresswoman’s sizable financial hole is detailed in a just-filed federal campaign report. A month late, she disclosed her finances through late January.

Bachmann left the race after finishing last among the Republicans aggressively competing in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses. She is running for a new term in Congress.

Half of the debt is owed to a fundraising consultant and her campaign manager is also due a large chunk.

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8/3/2012 Related report

Presidential Also-Rans Stiff Small Businesses

By Dave Levinthal and Robin Bravender
POLITICO.com Logo - Click to return to home page
July 29, 2012

Michele Bachmann used a fleet of golf carts to transport supporters around the  grounds of Iowa State University en route to winning the Ames straw poll last August, in what proved to  be the high point of her campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

The guy who owns those golf carts is still waiting for his check.

He’s not alone; Bachmann’s camp owes $935,000 to vendors across the country. …

While it’s common for presidential campaigns to take their time closing up shop, the small businesses left holding the bag are asking: Whatever happened to fiscal responsibility?

Like many candidates with leftover costs from the campaign trail, Bachmann has derided the accumulation of national debt.

“Sadly, we haven’t reformed the bankrupt tax-and-spend policies that we  decried [through] Ronald Reagan some decades ago,” Bachmann said at a National Press Club speech in July 2011. “We have merely replaced them with a new and insidious scheme called  borrow-and-spend.”

Turf Cars owner Cal  Campbell says the Bachmann campaign left the golf carts on campus with the keys  inside. “When we went to pick them up, they were destroyed,” he said. “One of  the things you don’t do when running for president is going around hanging small  businesses.” …

When it comes to recouping cash, lawsuits can work — to a point. In April, an  Iowa district court ordered  the Bachmann campaign to pay the golf cart company $3,100 in damages, but  Campbell said he isn’t expecting the campaign to pay up. “They won’t even talk  to us,” he said. “They won’t do anything. They just hung us with it.” …

Prior to the golf cart incident, Campbell of Turf Cars was a fan of Bachmann,  he said.

“I really kind of liked Michele Bachmann; I thought she was okay,” he added. “I’ve got a different opinion now.”

Full story

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6/19/2015 Related report

Michele Bachmann Is Still in a Race – for Money

itemprop
U.S. Rep.Michele Bachmann spoke to family, friends and supporters during a tribute at Monticello High School, Friday, April 11, 2014, in Monticello, MN. (David Joles / Dml – Star Tribune)

By Allison Sherry

June 19, 2015

Excerpts

WASHINGTON – Michele Bachmann hasn’t run for office in nearly three years, but the former Minnesota congresswoman is still raising cash and spending lavishly, dropping $300 on limousines in New York right around Thanksgiving and staying last fall at the luxurious L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, where most rooms go for $400 a night or higher.

Records show Bachmann for Congress spent roughly $25,000 in the last three months of 2014 on airline tickets, a private club membership and pricey dinners in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York. Her campaign even paid $470 to renew the plates on a vehicle in St. Paul last December — weeks before she stepped down from office.

It was May 2013 when Bachmann launched a predawn YouTube video in which she declared she would not seek a fifth congressional term. But since then, the provocative Tea Party conservative has continued to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, mainly by selling off her donor lists to other organizations. Federal records show that in the last three months of 2014, Bachmann raised $170,000 from selling e-mail lists.

She raised more than $800,000 in both small and large donations in 2013 — some of those arriving after she announced she wasn’t running for office. She refunded about $14,000 to supporters in 2013, presumably after she made that announcement.

During the first few months of this year she raised nearly $5,000 in online donations, records show.

A fierce advocate for balancing the federal budget, Bachmann has consistently carried campaign debt. …

Bachmann has $1.6 million cash on hand.

“It certainly raises a question: When she has money to pay the debt, why is she continuing to raise money?” said Dale Eisman, a spokesman at Common Cause, a nonprofit advocacy group. “She is a private citizen now, but she raises money as a candidate and she needs to account for it. This all raises a question she ought to answer.” …

During her last 13 months in office, Bachmann traveled to Bejing, Hong Kong, Malta and the United Arab Emirates on taxpayer-funded trips to learn about various issues. Her plane tickets alone, according to House records, cost more than $90,000 from December 2013 to December 2014. …

In final media interviews before leaving Capitol Hill last year, Bachmann was always sanguine about her future after Congress. She said she wanted to play a role in the 2016 presidential race and she has kept her political action committee, dubbed MichelePAC. In 2014 it raised $630,000.

Recent fundraising e-mails show she continues to raise money for MichelePAC, using recent ISIL tragedies and stories about Benghazi to lure in mostly small donors. …

Full story

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Related reports on this site

The Princess of Pork (March 18, 2009)

Bachmann added to House Republicans Hypocrisy Hall of Fame

DCCC Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame

Bachmann Ignites Truth-O-Meter (May 6, 2009)

In the 1970s, “the swine flu broke out . . . under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter.”
Michele Bachmann on Monday, April 27, 2009 in an interview with Pajamas Media.

The Truth-O-Meter Says: Michele Bachmann wrong that swine flu broke out under Carter

Pants on Fire!Michele Bachmann, a Republican member of Congress from Minnesota, is known for her controversial remarks. During the fall of 2008, she nearly lost her re-election campaign because she said Barack Obama “may have anti-American views.” In a 2009 radio interview, she said incorrectly that six Muslim clerics who were removed from a US Airways flight in 2006 were attending a “victory celebration” for Keith Ellison, a Muslim who was elected to Congress. … Full story





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