Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican and Tea Party darling, has made a lot of mistakes in her short political career thus far. Last quarter, she quietly attempted to correct one made in the very beginning of her time in the national political spotlight. According to a report by Mother Jones, Michelle Bachmann’s campaign revealed on quarterly finance reports that it had returned $14,000 in donations “to a bankruptcy trustee for Frank Vennes, a former North Dakota pawnshop owner who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for aiding and abetting fraud.”
Vennes, according to a profile in The New Republic, was convicted in 1987 of money laundering, cocaine distribution, and illegal firearm sales charges. He emerged from prison a devout Christian convert and, “embedded himself in Minneapolis’s evangelical community,” and began securing investors for a company that ultimately turned out to be a massive Ponzi scheme. As the scam faltered, he cozied up to the then-freshman congresswoman. After donating money to both her campaign and political action committee, Bachmann began immediately petitioning the Bush Administration for a presidential pardon for Vennes. However, after an FBI raid revealed that Vennes had been cheating his investors, she withdrew her support.
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Still, the $14,000 returned is not the entire amount Vennes contributed to groups with ties to Bachmann. A 2011 report from ProPublica.org states that Vennes contributed $35,000 to both the campaign and her political action committee. The corrections of The New Republic article states, “Vennes, his family, and his business associates donated just under $50,000 not to Bachmann and her PAC but to Bachmann and her joint fundraising committee.” In the Mother Jones report (written by the same journalist as The New Republic piece) says Bachmann has returned 80% of the money contributed directly by Vennes. While this entire affair is an indictment against Bachmann, it does raise a larger question about the troubling relationship elected officials have with their wealthiest campaign contributors.