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What, No Manufactured Outrage Over Norm Coleman's Sweetheart Deal?

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It is a sign of the times when the Republicans can do Nexus database searches for months and finally find a sentence from an obscure article written over a decade ago that put Al Franken in a poor light. This find lead to a well orchestrated Republican media blitz just before Minnesota's DFL nominating convention in early June. The Republican media blitz was so successful at generating manufactured outrage that even fellow democrats Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-4th District) and Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-5th District) joined in the fray with the Republicans to condemn candidate Al Franken. In fact Betty McCollum's condemnation of Al Franken was referenced in at 44 different major news stories on or around May 30th. The Republicans were successful in getting the democrats to start eating their own.

This last minute Republican tactic almost worked and some pundits thought the nomination of Al Franken was in jeopardy. Al Franken weathered the storm and media blitz against him and he was ultimately nominated as the DFL endorsed candidate. Nevertheless the damage the manufactured outrage caused has been lasting. Polling done months prior to the DFL convention had Al Franken almost neck and neck with the Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. Recent polling done by the Quinnipiac University on Thursday had Norm Coleman opening up a sizable 10-point lead on Al Franken.

On Thursday evening another story came across the wire, this one written by Edward T. Pound for the National Journal based in Washington D.C. In the article, Mr. Pound broke a story about Norm Coleman and a sweetheart deal he was getting from one of his top political consultants, Jeff Larson who is also a Republican operative with connections to Karl Rove and other lobbyists and lobbying firms.

Jeff Larson is a partner at FLS Connect in Saint Paul Minnesota, which has helped Coleman with his fundraising and outreach efforts. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission uncovered by Mr. Pound in his article, Jeff Larson’s firm has been paid about $1.6 million since mid-2001 by Coleman's Northstar Leadership political action committee and two Senate campaigns. Jeff Larson is also the chief executive of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul 2008 Host Committee, which will be hosting the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul this summer. Something Norm Coleman lobbied hard for in congress earlier this year.

The investigative story goes on to document information that was discovered where Norm Coleman has been living in the basement of a home owned by Jeff Larson for the past year while in Washington, and apparently missed a couple of rent payments until the National Journal brought them to the attention of Norm Coleman. Norm Coleman, when questioned, informed the National Journal that he has been renting the basement apartment of this townhouse in the much desired Capital Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C. for $600 a month. Even with this well below market value for rent in the Capital Hill neighborhood, the actual payments of $600.00 a month by Norm Coleman to Jeff Larson have been sporadic at best. When the National Journal questioned Norm Coleman on whether these payments had been made Norm Coleman quickly produced a check for $1200.00 worth of missing back payments to Jeff Larson. Additional inquiries discovered that another rent check had been held by Larson for almost three months and was only cashed a few days after Mr. Pound’s inquiries.

Further investigative work by Mr. Pound found that Jeff Larson's wife Dorene was hired by Norm Coleman to work in his Saint Paul Senatorial office and Senate records show that she has been paid $101,218 through March 31st. What is interesting about this is that Mr. Coleman's employment records showed that Dorene's employment was listed under her maiden name, Dorene Kainz. When his office was questioned about this no specific reason was given why Dorene used her maiden name in the employment records.

What is so telling about the current mainstream media is the complete lack of journalistic curiosity by all the major news organizations into what looks like at the very least a conflict of interest and sweetheart deal between a United States Senator and a powerful Republican operative with lobbyist ties. As of June 30th this story had only appeared in about 8 major articles and only two of these outside the state of Minnesota. Yet hundreds of articles were done about Al Franken and satirical things he said a decade ago as an entertainer and even more ludicrously 44 articles focused on fellow Democrat Betty McCollum’s condemnation of what Al Franken said a decade ago.

Do the Democrats have to in turn manufacture outrage just to get some journalists to at least look into a possible political corruption story? Only the online blogsphere seems to be digging into this so far with some even going so far as to suggest that Jeff Larson is illegally claiming the homestead tax credit in Washington D.C. where the owner has to also be the occupant of the home to legally claim the tax credit. A poster through the free Washington D.C. government online public records database recently obtained this information. Others were suggesting over the weekend that this is an illegal lobbyist contribution because anything below-market rate, would be considered a political contribution. Others are trying to connect the dots between Jeff Larson’s firm FLS connect and the lobbying and communications firm DCI Group which has a contract with the Myanmar government and has been connected to under-the-radar 501(c)(4) operations called "Iowa Future Fund", "Iowa Progress Fund" and "American Future Fund" which seem to overwhelmingly support Coleman's re-election. Using 501c's to advocate for an individual candidate is, of course, illegal.

Lastly one has to question the entire arrangement as it has been described so far by both Norm Coleman and Jeff Larson. When realtor Phyllis Jane Young described this property in her listing, prior to Jeff Larson purchasing the home for $989,900, the basement was described word for word as follows, "Downstairs, a huge English basement with a media center, office space, gorgeous custom marble and oak bar plus an airy guest bedroom and bath. (A C of O allows you the flexibility of an income unit)."

Norm Coleman, when questioned by Mr. Pound, described the apartment as a one-bedroom one-bathroom living space with a "bed shoehorned into a 10-by-10 bedroom". Coleman also said he shared the remaining living space, which includes his old couch, table, and chairs, with FLS Connect.

An anonymous poster made the following comment about the story when it first broke which sums it up quite nicely, "Poetic justice, really. Members of US Congress living in the basements of their political consultants/lobbyists. A real Upstairs-Downstairs situation."
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Eric Nelson is freelance writer, an editor at OpEdNews, and a spiritual progressive from Minnesota who has become more politically active. The reasons for this should be obvious to most; rising poverty, a broken health care system, and a growing (more...)
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