Public money puts Republican Bachmann on defensiveby Brian Bakst, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — As Rep. Michele Bachmann tours the country criticizing government as too big and too expensive, the Republican presidential candidate has come under mounting scrutiny over public dollars flowing to family business interests.
There's $259,000 in federal subsidies paid since 1995 to a family farm of which Bachmann is a part owner. Another $30,000 went to Bachmann and Associates Counseling Clinic in the last five years from various Minnesota government agencies, including one small payment logged the day after the congresswoman's official 2012 kickoff.
In addition, at least $137,000 came from Medicaid-backed programs for patients using the mental health clinic run by her husband, Marcus Bachmann.
All of the money poured through legitimate channels. Bachmann maintains none of the farm subsidies wound up in her pocket, although she disclosed the income on her congressional financial disclosure forms. And most public payments to the clinic are connected to services it provided, although it did receive a federal health grant for employee training.
The arrangements threaten to pose image problems for the tea party heroine - and could give rivals an opening to exploit in ads or other ways as the White House race drags on. All week, Bachmann has been forced to explain how her fervent talk of bloated government squares with a family that sometimes benefits from it.
Asked Monday about commodity subsidies for the Wisconsin family farm, she insisted to The Associated Press that "none of the income goes to my husband and I. All of the income goes to the farm."
Campaigning in South Carolina on Wednesday, neither Michele nor Marcus Bachmann would discuss the money his clinic draws from the Medicaid program, which Minnesota officials administer using a mix of state and federal money. The payments were first reported by NBC News.
Instead, campaign press secretary Alice Stewart issued a statement saying it would be "discriminatory" for the clinic to turn away patients enrolled in the subsidized program. "As a state-sponsored counseling service, Bachmann and Associates has a responsibility to provide Medicaid and medical assistance, regardless of a patient's financial situation," Stewart wrote.
It's routine for Minnesota health providers to draw Medicaid payments, said Karen Smigielski, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
"To be able to serve clients on our programs you have to enroll as a provider. Most everybody in the state enrolls as a matter of course," she said. "So almost anyone who does health care serves some of our clients."
Smigielski said the $137,000 paid to the clinic over the last seven years isn't all it received because the amount only reflects costs billed directly to the state. Some patients in public programs who used the clinic are in separately operated managed care health plans, but the state doesn't routinely compile those costs.
The Bachmann clinic also received about $24,000 - split between the state and federal governments - for a grant program to train counselors who treat people with both mental illness and substance abuse issues. According to state documents, the money was intended to offset anticipated revenue losses for clinics during the training.
Over the years, the clinic has received smaller payments from other government entities, some for providing mental health care to crime victims and others for helping officials determine eligibility for disability or rehabilitation services. One Minnesota agency sent the clinic $35 on Tuesday, a day after Bachmann's formal campaign announcement in Iowa.
Throughout her career in the state legislature and Congress, Bachmann has fashioned herself as one of the fiercest foes of government spending. She fired up a crowd Wednesday in Lexington, S.C., with vows to trim government, telling her audience the nation can't afford "four more years of unrestricted spending."
Dante Scala, chairman of the University of New Hampshire's political science department, said the focus on Bachmann's own financial ties to government is a sign she's being taken more seriously. But he doubts voters are paying enough attention where the questions will immediately damage her bid.
"It's a small drip," Scala said. "It's the type of thing that an opposition research person in a rival campaign will tuck away in a folder and keep it until it's useful."
--- Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard contributed from Lexington, S.C.