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I published a story last week that discussed Senator Norm Coleman’s cozy relationship with several of his campaign donors. Coleman’s office declined repeated requests for comment, but I said I would update the story if he ever offered a reply. He finally did–at a press conference last Friday. (I’ve been traveling for much of the past week and also re-interviewing my sources, or I would have noted this already.)
I had reported that Coleman’s wife, Laurie, was employed by The Hays Companies, a risk management and commercial insurance firm whose executives, spouses and employees had donated generously to Coleman between 2002 and 2006. I’d also reported that two sources had told me that Minnesota businessman Nasser Kazeminy (who previously paid for Coleman’s travel to the Bahamas and to Paris) had in the past covered the bills for Coleman’s lavish clothing purchases at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis.
Last Friday, four days after my piece had run and nearly two weeks after I had first contacted Coleman’s office to ask for comment, the senator replied. He said that throughout his public career he had tried to be as “transparent and forthcoming” as possible. His wife’s job, he said:
“has been disclosed as required under the ethics laws of the United States Senate. My wife is a certified and licensed insurance agent–she works for a living–and her employer is pleased with her work–and she is pleased with her job. And that’s all anybody is entitled to know.”
Coleman also denied that Kazeminy had ever bought him clothing, saying that he had initially refused comment to me because he believed that responding “to a baseless unsubstantiated claim that appears on a blog” would “make a story out of a non-story.”
First off, I’ll state the obvious: I would have handled the Kazeminy part of the story differently if Coleman’s office had denied the story. I had two sources that offered consistent accounts, and since publishing the story I have been contacted by a third source who backed the original ones. But the sources, even if they had good reasons for their posture, wouldn’t go on the record.
If Coleman had denied the accounts to me–and I spent a week trying to get him to offer comment–I would have talked the situation over again with my editor. I had (and have) confidence in what the sources told me but at minimum we would have featured Coleman’s denial very prominently in the story.
Instead, Coleman declined comment (because I was a “blogger,” he now says). Then his campaign manager subsequently declined to provide a specific response to questions about the matter at what the Washington Post called “the most awkward press conference in the history of politics.”
I would note here that Coleman has not always been “forthcoming” about the close relationship he maintains with some donors. As I noted in the original story, National Journal has reported that Coleman was renting a “crash pad” on Capitol Hill at what appears to be below market rate. The apartment is owned by a G.O.P. operative named Jeff Larson, the treasurer of Coleman’s personal Political Action Committee (PAC). Then it turned out that Coleman had somehow forgotten to pay two months of rent, and that Larson had not cashed one of his rent checks.
Larson’s firm had been paid more than $1 million by Coleman’s PAC and campaign. And Larson’s wife worked for Coleman’s office in St. Paul (under her maiden name), being paid more than $100,000 over two years. When this was reported, Coleman defended the arrangement, saying that Larson’s wife was one of his best employees, and that Larson’s telemarketing business had provided “great services” to the senator. That’s roughly the same explanation he’s offering now for his wife’s employment at the Hayes Companies. Meanwhile, he’s disclosed the bare minimum necessary about Laurie Coleman’s hiring by a campaign donor, saying the public is “not entitled” to know anymore more.
Maybe Coleman thinks there’s no problem with any of this, but frankly his claiming that he has been “transparent” in his dealings with the public seems like a stretch.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”