In 2009, months before James O’Keefe’s video sting was released, Michele Bachmann went on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show and denounced ACORN.
“Will members of Congress stand with ACORN, or will they stand with the taxpayer?” Bachmann said. “We have a fiduciary duty to look out for the best interests of taxpayers.”
Bachmann, who was alarmed about ACORN’s history of employees’ being indicted for voter fraud, had proposed an amendment in the House Financial Services Committee that would have banned taxpayer dollars from going to any organization that had been indicted for or convicted of voter fraud. Then–committee chair Barney Frank had originally supported the amendment, before switching positions.
A few days later, Bachmann highlighted the issue again, appearing on CNN’s Lou Dobbs program to debate Frank about the topic.
Around the same time, Bachmann used the media attention she’d generated and wrote a petition denouncing the taxpayer funding of ACORN. “If Congress can’t draw the line here — if they can’t say that an organization repeatedly charged with violating the law and public trust should not have access to federal funds — where will they draw the line?” Bachmann asked. “I urge you to sign this petition and join me in the fight to protect your tax dollars from being used and abused.”
While the ACORN defunding would have to wait a few months, Bachmann did get one significant boost from her ACORN activism: Her petition elicited 100,000 e-mail addresses, according to a source close to Bachmann. Later on, she could include those new supporters in the periodic fundraising e-mails her staff sends out.
Welcome to the formula that drives the Bachmann fundraising machine. For the Minnesota congresswoman, the fundraising process, according to that same source, is a “good combination of being out there, being vocal on the issues, having a microphone . . . building your list online, and giving people a way to get involved online.” In other words, Bachmann appears on a top-rated show like Sean Hannity’s Fox program or Mark Levin’s radio program, talks about a controversial issue, rolls out a petition, and watches the fan base expand.
It’s an astonishingly successful method, and one that allowed Bachmann to shatter previous records in the 2010 election cycle. Her haul of $13.2 million was the most any House member had received in an election cycle in the past 20 years, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis for the Washington Post. In previous years, the top fundraising totals for House members had been in the $5 million to $6 million range.
It’s that fundraising mojo, paired with her Tea Party credentials, that makes Bachmann a viable contender in 2012’s Republican primaries.