[Washington Babylon ]Senator Norm Coleman Gets by with a Little Help From His Friends | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Senator Norm Coleman Gets by with a Little Help From His Friends


Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota seems to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships with his financial contributors and political allies. Earlier this year, National Journal reported that he had a cozy deal to rent a “crash pad” on Capitol Hill owned by a G.O.P. operative named Jeff Larson. Larson is a top advisor to Coleman and the treasurer of his personal Political Action Committee (PAC). The story said:

In July 2007, Coleman began paying Larson $600 a month in rent for a portion of a one-bedroom basement apartment in a Capitol Hill town house… Earlier this month, after National Journal questioned Coleman and Larson about the living arrangement, the senator said he discovered that his rent for last November and January had not been paid. In mid-June, Coleman covered the back rent with a personal check for $1,200 made out to Larson and signed by the senator’s wife. Last year, Coleman sold furniture to Larson to cover one month’s rent, according to Larson. And Larson held on to yet another month’s rent check for three months, cashing it a few days after NJ’s inquiries.

Incidentally, Coleman’s P.A.C. has paid Larson’s political consulting firm, FLS Connect, $1.6 million since mid-2001. And Larson’s wife was hired to work in Coleman’s St. Paul office as a “casework supervisor.” (For some reason, Mrs. Larson was put on payroll under her maiden name.) Larson’s wife was paid more than $100,000 over two years before resigning after the Journal asked about her employment.

Meanwhile, the senator’s own wife, Laurie Coleman, is employed by Minneapolis-based Hays Companies, according to his latest personal financial disclosure form. The Hays Companies offers clients advice on risk management, commercial insurance, and employee benefits. The firm’s executives, their spouses and employees provided Coleman with $20,700 in campaign contributions between 2002 and 2006.

It’s not clear why a risk management firm would require the services of Laurie Coleman, an aspiring actress and the inventor of the “Blo & Go,” a hands-free hair drying device (“The whole key to this is the suction,” she has explained of her product’s utility.) Coleman’s financial disclosure form doesn’t list his wife’s job description or salary. LeRoy Coleman, the senator’s spokesman, declined to elaborate; the firm did not reply to a request for comment.

Coleman also has a close relationship with Minnesota businessman Nasser Kazeminy, a big donor to the G.O.P. and to Coleman. In 2005, the senator and his daughter jetted down to the Bahamas on a private plane owned by Kazeminy, a trip valued at $3,960. In 2004, he and his wife flew to Paris on Kazeminy’s plane, a $2,870 value.

“The trips … fall under the Senate gift rule, which allows for pre-approved gifts from long-term friends, the Star Tribune said in a 2006 story about the trips. “Coleman said he has known Kazeminy for more than a decade and the two have spent Christmas together. ‘It’s a friend with a plane,’ Coleman said.”

I’ve been told by two sources that Kazeminy has in the past covered the bills for Coleman’s lavish clothing purchases at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. The sources were not certain of the dates of the purchases; if they were made before Coleman joined the Senate in 2003, he obviously would not be required to report it under Senate rules. But having a private businessman pay for your clothing is never a good idea if you’re a public official (Coleman was mayor of St. Paul from 1994 to 2002).

Kazeminy did not respond to a request for comment. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully since last week to get Coleman’s press office to give me a direct answer about the matter.

Here’s my most recent email exchange (with a few typos cleaned up):

My email to LeRoy Coleman:

Wanted to run this by you one last time: Two sources have told me that Nasser Kazeminy has paid for clothing for Senator Coleman and his wife at Neiman Marcus… Seems like a pretty straightforward question, and [I] was hoping I could get a response to it. If it’s not accurate, please let me know. [I] am planning to write an item about this over next day or two; if Senator Coleman disputes the accounts I have heard, I would like to know.

Coleman’s response:

As required, any gift Norm Coleman has received from his friends has been fully reported.

To Coleman:

Sorry to be so persistent, and maybe I’m missing something here, but I am still hoping you can just give me a direct “yes or no” answer: Has Nasser Kazeminy paid for clothing for Senator Coleman and/or his wife at Nieman Marcus? If, so, when were the purchases made? Was he already in the Senate [then], or was it prior to his joining the Senate? Saying he’s reported any gifts “as required” does not necessarily mean Kazeminy has not paid for Coleman’s purchases at Nieman.

Coleman’s response:

As required, any gift Norm Coleman has received from his friends has been fully reported.

Still waiting for a “yes” or a “no.” I’ll update this post if I receive any further response.

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