Bachmann saved baby-sitting money for three years to buy contact lenses, only to have one of them fly out of her eye on a bike ride. She says the incident gave her a lifelong appreciation for a dollar hard-earned.
Bachmann has also learned how to take a punch and keep going. During her presidential bid, she overcame long shot odds to win the Ames Straw Poll in August 2011. She briefly became a top-tier candidate only to flame out after the vaccine gaffe. By January 2012, she fell to sixth place in the Iowa caucuses and was left with $1 million in campaign debt. She returned to Minnesota, determined to hang on to her House seat, but even with incumbency and a district that is the state’s most conservative, Bachmann nearly lost to a novice Democratic candidate, winning by a scant 4,300 votes. Not long after, news broke of federal and congressional investigations into her campaign.
Bachmann is leaving office under something of a cloud. She and former campaign staffers are still under investigation by a number of entities, including the House Ethics Committee, over alleged campaign-finance violations in her presidential campaign.
The Office of Congressional Ethics last year found “substantial reason to believe” that Bachmann failed to adequately oversee her political committees, that she used her leadership PAC money to subsidize her presidential campaign and used her book tour to promote her presidential campaign — all illegal under House rules or federal campaign laws.
Once she exits Congress, the House Ethics Committee will have no jurisdiction over Bachmann. Many on Capitol Hill suspect that the investigation — at least into Bachmann’s personal handling of her campaign finances — will then cease.
Bachmann insists that even if it continued, no wrongdoing would be found.
“Everything we have done in regard to this is to make sure we are fully cooperative, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that when this is completed I will be completely exonerated,” she said. “I’m not worried about it because I haven’t done anything to hold me in a position of responsibility.”
At a tribute dinner held in her district last month, Bachmann delivered her own keynote address.
“One of the greatest gifts that God can give to any human being is suffering and hard times,” she told the friendly crowd in Monticello. “It’s given to us for our benefit. It’s given to us to teach us ... to make us better. And also to take our eyeballs and turn our eyeballs outward rather than inward.”
Bachmann is still bringing in money for her MichelePAC. So far, records show the largest recipient of funds is a law firm defending one of her former campaign staffers. Federal documents posted April 20 show that MichelePAC had raised $353,100 and disbursed $12,500 to Republican candidates, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org.
The announcement last spring that Bachmann would not seek a fifth term in Congress came about the same time her lawyers were fine-tuning a settlement agreement over a lawsuit alleging that senior members of her presidential campaign stole an e-mail list of home-school families from the computer of an Iowa campaign staffer.
She says her decision to retire from office had nothing to do with controversies surrounding her presidential campaign.
“Some people, after one term, it’s enough,” she said. “Other people, 22 terms aren’t enough and they want to keep staying here. I felt like I redeemed the time … I know I did. I gave the constituents in my district, whom I love ... I gave them absolutely everything I had. I served them very well. I was very honest with them. I did exactly what I said I would.”
A legislative high point for Bachmann came in 2012, when she teamed up with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to push through funding to complete the long-delayed St. Croix bridge. In addition to the bridge bill, a measure by Bachmann granting social workers greater access to foster care educational records was signed into law by Obama.
Asked about her other achievements, Bachmann mentions being named in 2011 to TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and Forbes’ 100 most powerful woman.
It is a list of achievements her detractors say is stunningly small, given her national profile and eight years in Congress — much of that serving with the majority party.
Dan Hofrenning, a political scientist from St. Olaf College who has observed Bachmann’s career, said her firebrand approach to politics has made her increasingly less electable — and perhaps less effective, even among GOP leaders.