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Peter Waldron, Bachmann whistleblower, describes a campaign and candidate in distress

Michele Bachmann at the Republicans of Black Hawk County Dinner in Waterloo
REUTERS/Jim Young
Rep. Michele Bachmann greets a man dressed as President Abraham Lincoln at the Republicans of Black Hawk County Dinner in Waterloo, IA, on Aug. 14, 2011.

As the investigation widens into alleged campaign-finance violations in Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2011 campaign for the Republican nomination for president, no one seems more surprised or concerned than the man who started the investigative ball rolling. 

“How did the darling of the Tea Party, a former federal prosecutor for the IRS, a sitting member of Congress, an individual who is rare and few, one of the rare who is selected to sit on the House Intelligence Committee, how did this particular person get in a situation where hundreds if not thousands of newspapers have now reported on the Michele Bachmann campaign?” wondered Peter Waldron, an organizer of faith-based coalitions for the Bachmann’s Iowa campaign in 2011.

Waldron filed two ethics complaints involving Bachmann's presidential campaign in 2012. The first alleged that the campaign’s Iowa chair, state Sen. Kent Sorenson, and campaign political director, Guy Short, were illegally paid from Bachmann’s political action committee, MichelePAC.  The second complaint alleged that Sorenson stole a list of names of home-school parents from the computer of another campaign aide, Barbara Heki.

The FBI has now joined the Federal Elections Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Iowa Senate Ethics committee in investigating whether Bachmann’s presidential campaign broke any laws or violated any elections guidelines.

In a telephone interview with MinnPost from the home of one of his children in the state of Wyoming, Waldron made it clear that while he still respects Bachmann, he considers the actions of her former campaign advisers borderline immoral.

“I have nothing against Mrs. Bachmann,” he said. “I do take strong exception to her senior advisers who put her through what they put her through.”

Waldron, a former radio minister, has led an exceptional life: He was arrested in Uganda on weapons charges; he was a contractor in Beirut; and he ran a charitable youth group in Tampa, Fla. From there, he entered politics. “I’ve worked on a number of presidential, Senate and congressional campaigns as a value-voter organizer,” he said.

Waldron said to understand why he decided to expose Bachmann campaign secrets, “It’s important to understand that I am a Christian.”  

Before he filed formal complaints, Waldron said, he informed his superiors more than once of the transgressions he alleges. He said he spoke to Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, on three occasions about his concerns. Ultimately, he said, their lack of action left him no choice.

“These are the issues that must be resolved,” he said. “The theft of the mailing list must be resolved, the cover-up of the mailing list must be resolved, the payments to Guy Short must be resolved, the under-the table-payments to chairman Kent Sorenson had to be resolved.”

Waldron’s version of events that started in August, 2011, after Bachmann won Iowa's presidential straw poll depicts the campaign as deliberately engaging in a cover-up of the alleged theft of the home-school list. He describes his own efforts to correct these problems before they became bigger issues. And he reveals the missteps of a campaign that squandered a straw poll victory and left the candidate – in his words – “physically, emotionally, mentally psychologically depleted.” 

To understand what happened, it’s helpful to understand the structure of Bachmann’s Iowa presidential campaign. Prior to the Iowa straw poll in August 2011, GOP super-consultant Ed Rollins served as Bachmann's overall campaign manager. Waldron was one a dozen paid campaign workers. Bachmann replaced Rollins in September, 2011. Campaign manager Keith Nahigian, state campaign director Sorenson, political director Short and debate coach Brett O’Donnell formed Bachmann's new inner circle.

Waldron said he decided to give his first wide-ranging interview on the subject because “I thought it might be of value to understand not only who Peter Waldron is but, more importantly, how this process began.”  Here are excerpts from his interview with MinnPost and a timeline of events: 

Early 2011

Waldron: I went to work with Michele at the invitation of a long-time friend with whom I have worked on several presidential campaigns who thought I brought a certain skill set to the table. I would reach out and talk with pastors and evangelicals and pro-life and born-again Catholics, and that has been my job description since 1980 with the Reagan-Bush campaign. 

I think with Michele in particular, I really enjoyed it. I identified with her politics, I identified with her policies, I identified with her statements. I thought she was hitting all the pistons, hitting all the cylinders.   

We saw that at the straw poll in Ames, August 13, 2011, that she won the straw poll. She was figuratively carried on the shoulders of like-minded people not only in Iowa but across the country, specifically in South Carolina, which is a primary state. We saw a critical mass forming in Florida. We saw momentum in New Hampshire.

September, 2011

Waldron: After the straw poll, there were changes in the campaign. Ed Rollins left; his chief deputy, he left. For about 30 days, from the end of the straw poll to the middle of September, we saw no leadership. You can’t take 30 days away from any momentum that the straw poll may have generated. 

Peter Waldron
REUTERS/Euan DenholmPeter Waldron in a photo from 2006

Finally, on or about September 15, Keith Nahigian, who was an advance man, he was named overall presidential campaign manager. Assisting him was the speech coach, a gentleman named Brett O’Donnell.   

We saw changes immediately after Mr. Nahigian took charge. It became more difficult as a faith-based organizer. We recruited about 100, 150 endorsements from pastors and other faith-based leaders to support Representative Bachmann.

However, in that process I began to receive more complaints from pastors in Iowa that the advance team was rude, discourteous, tried to impose their will on the church, tried to change liturgy. I went from recruiting pastors to apologizing to pastors. 

MinnPost: Did you try to explain this to Michele Bachmann?

Waldron:I explained it to my senior advisers. I’m an old army guy. I go through the chain of command. I go to my supervisor. I go to my supervisor’s supervisor. I went to the campaign manager. I put it in writing.   

Lest you should think this is an isolated concern, the entire New Hampshire staff resigned in one day and issued a public letter talking about the rudeness of the campaign. It’s unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this. An entire staff walked off the job, then issued a blistering letter.

Mid-November, 2011

Waldron: I learned that a home-schooling list was removed from a private laptop of a staff member, Barb Heki. We agreed that something had to be done. We alleged that our campaign chairman in Iowa [Kent Sorenson] had taken the list.   

That’s where the story begins. The Iowa campaign manager [Eric Woolson] and I, we alleged with strong conviction that a mailing list had been taken from Mrs. Heki. We also knew that this person who took the list would not go to Mrs. Heki and apologize or explain what had happened. 

I sat there for probably two weeks and watched Mrs. Heki deteriorate emotionally. The list was a private list that a private home-school association had allowed Mrs. Heki, who was a board member, to use. We all knew in the office that that list was off limits – it was no trespassing. She would not use that list to benefit the Bachmann for president campaign.

December, 2011

Waldron: On December 18, I drove to Fort Dodge, Iowa, and met privately with Mr. and Mrs. Bachmann in their hotel room and I shared with them what I knew was a fact – that a list had been stolen. I shared with them that I was uncomfortable with some of the under-the-table payments that I alleged were going on. I told them about the rudeness and mistreatment and that the senior staff was causing more problems leading up to the caucus than they were solving problems.

At that meeting, she and her husband tasked me with locating a new campaign adviser, new campaign manager and a new speech coach. I left that meeting in Fort Dodge somewhat encouraged that we were looking for solutions.

What I had hoped is that the representative would have suspended the alleged party until there was a formal investigation, but that didn’t happen.

For all [Mrs. Heki] knew in December was that she must have made a mistake, that she must have inadvertently sent out the list. She blamed herself. It was torture watching her blame herself. It was torture watching her, knowing that she had nothing to do with it and that she was truly a victim.

MinnPost: Did the Bachmanns believe your statements?

Waldron:I believe that Mr. and Mrs. Bachmann did believe what I said. They understood the dynamic. Remember, though, I am only one voice. She took what I said back to Keith Nahigian, Guy Short and Brett O’Donnell. Somehow in their wisdom they convinced her otherwise.

Jan. 3, 2012

After the Iowa caucus, Bachmann suspends her presidential campaign.

Waldron: It was whittling away on Mrs. Bachmann’s strength, her stamina, her emotional physical health. It was really taking a toll on her. She was exhausted. It came to light that the campaign was not, as the Bachmanns understood, a quarter of a million dollars in debt. It was in fact over a million dollars in debt.  That was a staggering blow.   

Obviously, Mrs. Bachmann did not do well in the caucus. She went from being first, first female to win the straw poll.  We lose 30 days. New leadership is brought in. Complications began to rise from the grass roots among pastors and churches and pro-life leaders. The New Hampshire staff walks off the job. We have a theft in the office. So everyone returns to their respective homes.

January- February, 2012

Waldron: Then it was a matter of: Are we going to get paid? The initial reaction is that we can’t pay you now because Michele is running for re-election and we just don’t have the money to pay the staff of the presidential campaign.

July, 2012

Waldron: On July 31, Mrs. Heki surprises everybody and she files a lawsuit against the campaign. [Bachmann’s] legal team, their response was to file a motion to dismiss, this has nothing to do with Bachmann for president campaign, when in fact it all had to do with the Bachmann for president campaign. 

MinnPost: But Bachmann, you say, knew the truth. Why did she allow her lawyers to claim otherwise?

Waldron: Common sense is what you just said. A reasonable person would say -- you have an attorney, not just an attorney, she was a federal prosecutor. She put a lot of people behind bars. She knows the law. Does it smell right to you?

MinnPost: Do you think that health issues or stress clouded her decisions?

Waldron: What I can say, and I can testify, under oath I would testify, that on January 1st, the woman was physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically depleted.  She had reached the end of her human capacity. There was nothing left in her. The January 3rd caucus saved her life. It brought an end to the running into the ground strategy deployed by three inexperienced campaign advisers. They ran her into the ground.

I will testify under oath, if given opportunity and if it were necessary, that the January 3 caucus of 2012 saved Michele Bachmann’s life. Has she recovered? I do not know. I do not know if her lack of television appearances up until now is because she still is recovering or is it because of all the investigations. 

January, 2013

Four campaign staffers were still not paid in full and were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements before they receive the balance of what was owed to them.

Waldron: Every one of us who has worked on a campaign at one time will sign a non-disclosure agreement. But you don’t ask someone to sign a non-disclosure agreement after you have been interviewed by the police a dozen times. You don’t ask the person to sign a non-disclosure agreement after you have agreed to a deposition with the plaintiff in a lawsuit. This was nuts to me. 

[The non-disclosure] required that I tell the Bachmann attorneys everything that I tell the lawyers in the lawsuit.  They tried to circumvent the process. "If you’re going to get paid …  you’ve got to tell us everything you told your attorney and you told the detective."

Can you imagine? Can you imagine? For me, I took great offense. I had played the game. I had submitted myself. I had gone up the chain of command. I had gone to Michele and Marcus privately. I went to their campaign manager privately. I respected the chain of command. I was willing to go along until I woke up and realized that Mr. Heki and Mrs. Heki are very modest people. They have a modest life, modest income. They’re the salt of the earth. And I saw and observed these professionals come out of Washington like mercenaries. They swoop in. 

They live the high life; they stay in the better hotels. And here’s Mrs. Heki. Mrs. Bachmann probably makes as much in two months as the Hekis make in an entire year. 

To ask us to sign this non-disclosure agreement as a condition of being paid, I can’t do it in good conscience.

In January, 2013, Waldron filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission and the Iowa Senate ethics committee. Last month, Andy Parrish, a senior adviser to the Bachmann presidential campaign, submitted an affidavit to the Iowa committee, saying that Bachmann “knew and approved” of payments to Sorenson from a non-campaign fund.

Bachmann’s attorney has denied any wrongdoing on the part of her presidential campaign. The Bachmann campaign has begun a settlement discussion in the lawsuit filed by Heki. The Office of Congressional Ethics is expected to make its findings next month.

Waldron: None of this, at the end of the day, is the assassination of JFK.  This only required that one or two people humble themselves and apologize. But we’ve gone from where we began. I’m a Christian who adheres to the Ninth Commandment: Thou shall not bear false witness.

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Comments (22)

Exceptional?!?

It's hard to read this thinking there is any objectivity when an episode of weapons charges in Africa gets glossed over with "has led an exceptional life". Exceptional is usually a word we reserve for the best of the best-- not for people charged with weapons trafficking in one of the most violent parts of the world. Also, since ultimately much of this is a he said/she said issue, it might be a useful thing for a reporter to tell us what happened to those charges, and what the facts were. Might be relevant as to how trustworthy a guy he is. Or, we could just say he's had an exceptional life. Pretty much covers it. Ditto with his being a contractor in Beirut-- what was this man who now has such love for the 10 commandments doing there?

Truly exceptional

Dr. Waldron was arrested in Kampala with assault weapons and ammunition, just before the country's first multi-party elections in 20 years. While he was in Uganda, Dr. Waldron was a special guest speaker at the church of Martin Ssempa, the pastor who was a force behind Uganda's law that called for the death penalty for LGBT people.

Waldron has written that "The Bible represents the absolute source for the guiding principles and precepts for all governments in man (self-government), of families (family government), churches (church government), and for nations (civil government)."

Exceptional, indeed.

Thanks. Those are the types

Thanks. Those are the types of details that might be useful to include as some background, before he gets several pages to push his views. I'm also quite impressed that he's willing to testify under oath that her loss in the Iowa Caucus saved her life. I see a lot pretty ill people as a physician, and in very few is it ever certain exactly what saved them. Must be nice to be so certain regarding things that can't be known.

Yikes! Is that 'Zombie Lincoln?'

Honest, Abe looks pretty creepy in that photo.

Obamacare

I think Abe wished Affordable Health Care covered dental.

Deniability

is the main principle of government these days.
And Bachmannn is not the only one; just one of the worst.

But Waldron raises another good point:
If Bachmann is not up to the stress of running a short political campaign, how could she possibly run a government?

See, here's the thing....

Time and again you just find that these Tea Party people are ignorant. I mean here you have a guy who thinks that Bachmann put a lot of people in jail, a guy who worked on her campaign and should be familiar with her REAL credentials. According to the MPLS Star Tribune:

"In her tenure as an IRS attorney in St. Paul, however, it appears that Bachmann seldom entered a courtroom and fully litigated only two cases in four-plus years, according to judicial records."

Bachmann never put anyone in prison.

I know I'm nit-picking but sheesh you look at this campaign and it's a disaster. Yes, it's weird that all these lawyers would have so much trouble following the law, but it's typical amongst Republicans. Remember when Pawlenty violated campaign laws in his first campaign? As for Bachmann, I think the irony is resolved by the fact that she's probably a bad lawyer. She hasn't practiced in over a decade and she got her JD from a law school that lost it's accreditation and then closed down shortly after regaining it (Oral Roberts). The Bachmann's thought they had three quarters of a million dollars less debt than they actually had? Then they want to apply conditions on wage and salary payment AFTER the campaign has shut down?

Can someone track Representative Bachmann's legal career

So far, and this is just from memory, she has been a constitutional lawyer, a business lawyer, and now an IRS prosecutor. At one time I think she actually practice family law.

This would an interesting pat to follow.

Been done

Jody,

The Strib did that years ago. Bachmann has had one job and one job only as a lawyer, she was a tax attorney for the IRS for 5 years, then she quit to become a stay at home mom, and until she got involved in politics that's been her only career.

Now she's always dodgy about this, she's always implied that she had more extensive legal experience and practice than she really had, but dishonesty is par for the course with her.

http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/128131968.html

Big picture

Lost in all this is a discussion of the wisdom of Michele Bachmann running for president. (For the record, yes, I am aware of the irony of using the word "wisdom" in this context.)

It seems to me that it was an idea built on hubris and nothing more. Whoever said she had a chance? Was it a yes-man adviser or was it her own belligerence? She has no accomplishments in the House. She has a penchant for uttering outright fabrications on many issues, some of which are medically dangerous. To use a cliche, she's a lightning rod. She would receive no crossover support; Democrats would never vote for her. She would not gain the female vote simply by virtue of her own gender (see also: Sarah Palin).

In short, Bachmann had absolutely no business running for president. It seems she was just another "me too" candidate. On the plus side, she made meaningful contributions to the GOP's quadrennial clown car primary. I suppose we can all be thankful for that.

Wow

Reading this makes one realize how little it takes to be a Republican candidate these days. This guy sounds a bit off, threatening her life? Give me a break. Sounds like she was incapable of doing the job, which is still the case. And she keeps getting reelected?

Bachmann and Waldron: Is Anyone Surprised?

This episode, with these two players, proves the old adage that there is no honor among thieves.

No Honor Among Thieves

I think that comment hangs at the Capital. Bachmann loves a good fight regardless if she is right or wrong.

Also

It proves that hacks, like water, always find their own level.

Liturgy

Other commenters have dealt with Waldron's comments re Bachmann's legal career.

But what caught my eye was this campaign tactic he alleges:

"I began to receive more complaints from pastors in Iowa that the advance team was rude, discourteous, tried to impose their will on the church, tried to change liturgy. I went from recruiting pastors to apologizing to pastors."

A political candidate's advance team "tried to change liturgy"? I'd like to read that part of her platform.

“physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically depleted.”

No wonder she became debilitated - it takes a tremendous amount of all those kinds of energies to to keep a fantasy going. To get a jag going like she did ?? Uff Da !!

........We recruited about

........We recruited about 100, 150 endorsements from pastors and other faith-based leaders to support Representative Bachmann.
However, in that process I began to receive more complaints from pastors in Iowa that the advance team was rude, discourteous, tried to impose their will on the church, tried to change liturgy. I went from recruiting pastors to apologizing to pastors.....

Separation of church and state?

Where is the IRS when you need them?

....impose their will on the church, tried to change liturgy...

What the heck does that mean?

just a guess on the liturgy thing...

Since most of those funadmentalist churches don't have much formal liturgy to begin with I suggest he meant that she was trying to get them to bring up their support for her campaign during their services similar to what she had Mac Hammond doing at his "God made me rich because he loves me" TV ministry.

Surely Bachmann isn't their answer

Where do the regressive Republicans go from here?

The last election had Romney who ran and ran, lost, and then through his son said he didn't really want the job.

Bachmann tried to run a short campaign and became physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically depleted, but is convinced in her own mind she could run a country.

Newt Gingrich, a perpetual candidate, who likes the spot light, likes to hear himself talk, and to make a ton of money for himself will be back in 2016.

Paul Santorum didn't make any sense.

Ron or Rand Paul (take your pick) both make good regressive Republicans but couldn't convince the country they are what the country needs.

At what point will the Republicans get serious and put forth a candidate who has what it takes to be president? When will they be willing to work with others? When are they going to make serious party changes that show the public they have what it takes? When will they have common sense ideas versus the fringe ideas they are operating with now? When will they have the knowledge they claim to have and the desire to once again be a patriotic party working for all the citizens of the country? Surely Bachmann isn't their answer.

Maybe Romney ran to save us from

the likes of the other Republican candidates. If so we owe him our thanks.

Now if he just could have found a more effective Democratic opponent.

Careful what you wish for.

I guess his opponent is effective enough, he won.

Mitch McConnell, just last week, suggested we imagine what it would be like if a Republican held the office. Dumb request on McConnell's part as my memory of the last Republican who held the office is very vivid and very unpleasant, he ran the country in to the ditch, which we are still trying to recover from.

Separation of church and state?

For many in the Republican party, including Mr. Waldron, you cannot be a true Christian unless you are a Republican. Bachmann's right wing base has always been a church based enterprise. She recruits and campaigns in churches and has many pastors campaigning for her from their pulpits. They've become what unions used to be for the Democratic Party- a reliable source of voluntary help and cash. Mr. Waldron was apparently an important cog in the machine in Iowa.

I think what they mean by "changing the liturgy" is that they probably tried to get pastors to change the usual structure of their church services to have an extended political commercial for Michele and her band. Maybe not all pastors are as easy as Mac Hammond to turn their Sunday mornings over to Bachmann.