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Trouble Ahead for Sen. Coleman

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman's (R) reelection prospects have brightened in recent weeks, as the press has been busy digging around in the tax records and controversial writings of his Democratic challenger, humorist Al Franken.

But the tide may be about to turn.

National Journal is out today with a terrific story on the relationship between Coleman and Jeff Larson, a little-known but powerful operative in Republican fundraising circles. The story is long and worth reading in full, but here are the highlights:

* Coleman has a longstanding relationship with Larson and his St. Paul-based fundraising company, FLS Connect. The firm has raised lots of money for Coleman and has been paid quite a bit in return by his reelection campaign and his political action committee.

* Coleman rents a room in the basement of a Capitol Hill townhouse owned by Larson. He pays $600 per month for the place, which seems -- to anyone who's tried to find similarly priced digs in the area -- to be a very good deal. Coleman and Larson both say that the senator only has a small bedroom with no kitchen, and he's rarely there anyway.

* Coleman tells NJ that after the magazine's inquiries, he "discovered" he hadn't paid rent for last November or January. Coleman regularly pays his rent late, and at least one rent check wasn't cashed for several months until after NJ started asking questions. For one month last year, Coleman "paid" his rent by selling Larson some old furniture.

* Larson's wife, Dorene, has been on Coleman's Senate payroll for the past two years (under her maiden name) as a casework supervisor in his St. Paul office. Coleman says she does a great job, but she is now going to leave the payroll next month to ... wait for it ... spend more time with her family.

What does this all add up to? Coleman and Larson both strongly denied to NJ that there is anything inappropriate about their business ties or their tenant-landlord relationship. But you can bet that the Minnesota press and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will be all over this. And you can bet the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington will file a formal complaint against Coleman with the Senate Ethics Committee, automatically triggering a preliminary investigation by the panel.

Coleman appears to have a good friend in Larson and a great place to live in D.C. Now he probably needs a good lawyer.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 27, 2008; 2:44 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Ethics and Rules  
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Next: Player of the Week: Paul Hodes


This is news...wait for it...why?

Desperate to find something?

Posted by: Smedley Butler | June 27, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I think I know where Coleman lives. My significant other lives in a similar apartment about two blocks away. She pays $550 a month for a place that's slightly bigger, and she actually gets to share the townhouse kitchen.

In other words: WTF, mate?

Posted by: I know this sounds silly but | June 27, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Concur that the rent actually seems like a plausible rate, especially given that the landlord legitimately knows that the tenant will be there minimally. That said, Coleman should have known better. This is the type of thing that looks like it creates a conflict of interest.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 27, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

As a Minnesota Democrat, I have to ask "Where is the beef?" in this story? I have read the entire article in question and -- while it all is passingly very interesting -- so what?

Posted by: Gary in MN | June 27, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

But the public record lists two kitchens for that address. Could it be a mistake?

Incidentially, is that CapHill townhouse Larson's primary residence? In other words is he entitled to a homestead exemption?

my my what was Coleman thinking?

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | June 27, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I am from Minnesota. Honestly, I had hoped there was something here. Norm surely has personal dirt in his past, but this is not it. Pathetic. Compared to Stuart Smally's rape jokes? Franken's tax woes and on-the-record statments that "taxes are complex" -a killer for someone who wants to be a Senator passing tax policy, you think THIS is news? Realy????

Posted by: UndecidedModerate | June 27, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

I thought Senators make like $200K a year, I pay $1,300 in Shaw for a Galley Kitchen (use to be a Rooming House), but somehow... I survive on a GS9 salary. Ohh, that's right, I don't have a limo or a tux.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | June 27, 2008 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like he hasn't paid that $600 half the time (so is that an illegal gift or contribution of some species?), and
if the hiring of Larson's wife was legit and she was really qualified, she wouldn't have headed for the hills. Coleman would have done the humanly decent thing and proved her professional bona fides to all doubters - strongly standing by her.

This unethical quid pro quo stuff is a pattern for Coleman, remember his dental work??? I'll take any and all bets that there is illegality involved here. Hope we see it take him down - Coleman is an absolute disgrace to the Senate. The only time I enjoyed haering him speak was when he was verbally and skillfully castrated by George Galloway. That was speaking truth to (undeserved) power.

Posted by: DD | June 27, 2008 11:11 PM | Report abuse

OK -- I see a lot of comments that there is nothing to this story but explain why was Larson's wife using her maiden name. Does she normally do this? Sounds kind of hinky to to me. Also --- I have never had a landlord who didn't notice that I hadn't paid rent. Supposedly Coleman didn't "discover" he hadn't paid rent in November and January until this investigative story. Just curious anybody else out there able to skip their rent payments and the landlord doesn't notice for 6-8 months?

Posted by: pam | June 28, 2008 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Oh, don't go too hard on old Norm. Now that things are turning to the left finally all he has to do is grow his hair long again (ala Hofstra) and light up a doobie and VIOLA, he's a liberal again.
It'll be just like old times.

Posted by: Tom | June 28, 2008 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Being Minnesota born and raised, I do not understand how this guy (Norm Coleman) can waltz into our state and run for the senate. At least Al Franken was born here. Al is a good comedian and Norm is a joke. I don't believe that Norm's tax returns can be all that perfect either. My feeling is that Al Franken is an extremely bright and enthusiastic individual who would do a good job for Minnesota no matter what dirt the pugs dig up.

Posted by: ksquires | June 28, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

All in how the media flips it and the media is on the side of the Republicans.

Coleman's current problems are politics as usual, not exceptional, and not that exciting. My wife kept her maiden name. Her father was a regionally known painter and two of his three girls kept the name. One year I worked at Johns Hopkins I paid a lot less than $600 for a townhouse bedroom, was there every night and had the run of the place. Were the motivations more tainted in Coleman's case? Maybe. But since the circumstances aren't that interesting, where's the traction? Just as easy to say "Maybe not." Isn't like a Democratic congressman getting caught with wads of $100 bills in Tupperware containers in his freezer. What became of that?

And so what that Coleman wasn't born in Minnesota? Franken left Minnesota about 1970 when he was a teenager after graduating from the state's finest yuppie prep school and except for visits to his mother only moved back to try to be a politician. Which seriously makes me wonder whether he is _really_ in better touch with Minnesotans than Coleman and seriously makes me question whether Franken is the best choice for a strategic campaign. I think he should have stuck with writing books.

Posted by: smchris | June 29, 2008 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Kind of strange. Dorene Kainz is on Coleman's staff listed under her maiden name, yet in this link
She responds to a constituent as Dorene Larson. You would think she would only use one last name so the constituents know who to ask for, unless she is trying to hide something.

Posted by: Dave Simpson | June 29, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Ho! Hum! Yawn! So must be a slow newsday
at WAPO since most of the people in the
USA already know what a phony sleazy loser
Norm Coleman is now then. So what's the
point here? And why is WAPO still giving
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama a free ride?

Posted by: Sherry Kay2004 | June 30, 2008 9:57 AM | Report abuse

To consider Franken in the same solar system with Coleman is a bad, bad joke. He is nothing but a smear merchant and a liar. His writings, tax problems and any number of wild accusations on talk shows shows he his unstable and certainly ooperates far below any standard to be considered for a U.S. Senator. On Coleman's worst day, Franken still loses.

Posted by: twomiler | June 30, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

So what's the problem? Is it illegal for a landlord to rent a small area for $600/month? Is it illegal to rent to/from a friend? Is it illegal to rent to a person who does business with you? Is there anything involving taxpayer money here? WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

If you're going to say he should hire a lawyer, at least list what he's done that may be illegal.

Posted by: kevin | June 30, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

YOU.. HAVE FUN;;;;;;;

Posted by: rugman | June 30, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

While you're at it, why not look into the use of Coleman's name and status as a U.S. Senator to sell his wife's Blo-and-Go contraptions? His name was all over Laurie Coleman's Blo-and-Go website until recently, when it was scrubbed. perhaps there was a potential FEC or Senate ethics violation in that sleazy little bit of promotion too? Read about that one here:

Posted by: Minnesota Raindog | June 30, 2008 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I used to be married to a relative of Jeffs and although I haven't seen him in years I do know Dorene used her maiden name. Other than that nothing to add.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 30, 2008 11:24 PM | Report abuse

I read this what?
At least Senator Coleman has not tackled someone at a political event like Franken has. Franken is a nut case...too bad the Democrat Party in Minnesota was not bright enough to find a good now all they can do is attack and smear a qualified Senator in hopes of seating that idiot stooge Franken. People of Minnesota wake up!!! If you elect Franken...the rest of the country will laugh at we all laugh at Ohio for Dennis Kucinich LOL LOL LOL

Posted by: Sandra Binder | July 1, 2008 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm not really sure where the problem is here other than a room in a basement being rented out for that much money!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 1, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

It certainly seems that a person should be able to rent an apartment to whomever he wishes for whatever rate...until, of course, the renter is someone who is subject to laws regarding gifts to representatives. And it similarly seems that Senator Coleman should be able to employ whoever he wishes in his office, but the choice of someone who is married to a prime operator of a fundraising organization does at least raise the question of what is payback for what. If Doreen Larson is a competent staffer, then Coleman should defend her and his choice in hiring her on that basis. You don't just give up competent staff without a fight, since competent staff are notoriously hard to find. Far more questionable is whether the rental agreement (the furniture thing in particular) is a rental, or a gift. If Coleman weren't a Senator, then there would be nothing illegal, but there is much which it is illegal for a Senator or Congressman to receive which would be OK for a private citizen. The congress has passed laws and regulations on gifts to its members. The members should at least be bright enough to pay attention to the laws they themselves passed.

Norm should have been aware of this particular pothole. He isn't the first Republican Senator from Minnesota to have problems with how he acquired his living space. One is reminded of the flap a few years ago with Minnesota Senator Dave Durenberger and the lease of an apartment from himself.

If Larson's company wasn't being paid $1.6 million per year by Coleman's organization, along with the $100,000 a year salary for Mrs. Larson, it also might not raise quite so many eyebrows, but if the discounted rent is a gift (and there is at least smoke here) then it is a violation.

Posted by: Gardog | July 1, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"He's hardly there?" Where is he? I live in St Paul and he and his wife are not here.

That's a bad answer for Mr. Coleman. Given his shady reputation, I think that unless he's sleeping in the Senate coatroom after putting in long hours reviewing policy proposals he shoold say "Yes I'm there in bed every night by 10pm."

Posted by: st paul sage | July 1, 2008 5:59 PM | Report abuse

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