Michele Bachmann’s Funny Business

The presidential candidate spent years trying to build a legal practice—at least on paper—but it never got off the ground.

By: Shane Harris

Minnesota representative and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann at the Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll. Photograph by Gage Skidmore

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann touts her experience as a federal tax lawyer with the IRS, a job she says gave her the insights she needs to simplify the US tax code. But Bachmann is curiously silent about another part of her legal career—perhaps because it didn’t amount to much.

In the mid-’90s, five years before she entered a career in politics, Bachmann hung out a shingle as a legal mediator, a specialist who helps parties settle conflicts out of court. The company, Michele Bachmann Mediation LLC, “was formed to offer a service to people seeking mediation tax services,” said Bachmann’s congressional spokesperson, Becky Rogness. But it’s unclear what clients—if any—Bachmann had.

Bachmann took all the steps one would expect from an aspiring small-business owner. She incorporated the company with the state of Minnesota, listing her then-home address in Stillwater. She took a series of state-sanctioned courses in order to have her name placed on a state roster of qualified mediators. Bachmann even advertised—in 1995, she adopted a stretch of highway in her company’s name, which was printed on a road sign.

But four other mediators in Stillwater said they never saw Bachmann in professional circles or heard of her taking clients. Most were surprised to learn she’d had a mediation business at all. There is no official account of any work Bachmann may have done—mediation proceedings are confidential and Minnesota doesn’t keep records of them, a state official said. Bachmann also didn’t disclose any income from the business on her financial disclosure forms after she was elected to the state senate in 2000.

Judging by press accounts, there was at least a public impression in Stillwater that her legal business was active and taking up much of her time. An Associated Press article in April 2000 described Bachmann as having “left her law practice” to campaign full-time for the state senate. And a profile in the Minnesota Lawyer in 2001, published after Bachmann had been elected, said she’d “put her tax litigation practice on hold” to serve in the capital.

Bachmann’s congressional spokesperson said she couldn’t say whether or not the business had any clients or generated any revenue. “Congresswoman Bachmann’s congressional office does not keep records of Michele Bachmann Mediation LLC,” Rogness said. She referred the question to Bachmann’s presidential campaign staff. Repeated inquiries with a spokesperson there went unanswered.

The fact that Bachmann has never mentioned her years-long career as a mediator is curious since she has credited her experience as a federal attorney with helping her understand complex policy matters and the needs of working families. And a mediator’s core skills as a conciliator and negotiator would seem to be desirable qualities in a president.

But the absence is even more telling since Bachmann has sought to portray herself as a successful business person, who has the requisite skills to manage the economy and create jobs. Speaking on Fox News after Barack Obama delivered his speech on jobs to a joint session of Congress, Bachmann criticized the president for offering “no new ideas.” She continued, “This was political. And I’m a business person. I’m a former federal tax lawyer. What we needed is what works in the economy. We didn’t have an economic speech, we had a political speech.”

Bachmann’s congressional spokesperson said the mediation company was ultimately closed because Bachmann’s interest in education policy was taking up much of her time. “Simultaneous to the formation of Michele Bachmann Mediation, Congresswoman Bachmann became active in education policy, so that involvement, paired with remaining an involved parent, took priority,” Rogness said. Bachmann helped found a charter school in 1993, and she made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Stillwater school board in 1999.

But Bachmann started to build her business years before she entered a career in politics, and she the kept the business going—at least in name—as her interest in education policy grew and while she served in the Minnesota senate.

According to Washington County, Minnesota, transportation department records, Bachmann adopted the highway in her company’s name in 1995. Two two years later, her name was placed on the state’s roster of qualified mediators after she completed 30 hours of mandatory coursework.

It wasn’t for two more years that Bachmann’s political career took off in earnest. But even then, in early 2000, she filed incorporation papers for the mediation business with the state. A few months later, Bachmann won the backing of Republicans for a state senate run.

The mediation company remained in good standing with the Minnesota Secretary of State until 2005, when it was “administratively terminated” for failure to file an annual renewal form. The next year, Bachmann ran for Congress.

Bachmann may have also been associated with another business that didn’t amount to much. According to state records, a company called Figure Fitness LLC was incorporated in 2002 at Bachmann’s address in Stillwater, the same address where she listed her mediation business.

The attorney who filed the fitness company’s paperwork with the state said Michele Bachmann was not associated with the company, but that someone associated with the Stillwater address was. Asked if it was Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, the attorney replied, “I can’t say that he was or that he wasn’t.”

Marcus Bachmann, a psychologist, runs a counseling center that offers Christian-based therapy and has been criticized for treating homosexuality as a mental illness. State records show that the center, Bachmann & Associates Inc., has also used the Stillwater address.

Figure Fitness, like Michele Bachmann’s mediation business, was terminated from state records in 2005 for failing to file an annual renewal form. Bachmann’s congressional spokesperson said she had no information about the fitness company. The campaign spokesperson also had no comment.

Bachmann Paperwork

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