With the economy and the bailout for Wall Street on everyone's mind the last thing a Republican incumbent needs during their campaign is another scandal. In the current environment voters are hypersensitive to political fraud and abuse of power by politicians.
And yet scandals and potential ethics violations appear to be all over Norm Coleman like a cheap suit. Although in the case of Norm Coleman maybe not so cheap. A reporter for Harper's Magazine broke a story a few days ago suggesting that Norm Coleman had unreported gifts in the form of Neiman Marcus suits from a campaign donor and investment executive named Nasser Kazeminy. The friendship between Iranian-born Kazeminy and Norm Coleman goes back many years and Norm Coleman frequently vacations and travels on Kazeminy's dime and personal plane. According to Senate ethics rules gifts of over $250 from friends are required to be reported to the Senate Ethics Panel.
What started this story was Norm Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, refusing to answer 'yes' or 'no' to reporter's questions about the potential gifts of suits and clothing to Norm Coleman from Kazeminy. Instead of answering the questions posed by the press corp Cullen Sheehan repeated on nine separate occasions, "Senator Coleman reported every gift he has ever received."
Someone of Norm Coleman's political experience should have known that not answering the question about if Kazeminy had bought him any suits at the press conference was only going to fuel the rumor mill. As of the writing of this article the above YouTube video has been viewed over 130,000 times in the past three days and is climbing quickly. And this story has gone viral and has turned into "Suitgate", was mentioned on MSNBC last night, and was featured as a major story on "The Nation" today called appropriately enough "Suitgate Sinking Coleman".
Suits haven't been the only thing that Nasser Kazeminy has contributed to Norm Coleman’s political career. In 2000 Kazeminy footed the bill for Coleman to fly to Jordan for a global trade conference. Since then Coleman has flown on Kazeminy's private jet to places like Paris and the Bahamas. "It's a friend with a plane," Coleman explained to the Minneapolis papers after the subsidized trips came to light in 2006.
Iranian-born Nasser Kazeminy has been reported as one of the top 20 most active donors to the Republican party in Minnesota. Since 1990, Nasser Kazeminy has contributed almost $800,000 to Republican candidates and causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Kazeminy's wife, Yvonne, has contributed an additional $123,300 to Republican coffers.
Yesterday after it was discovered that disgraced Twin Cities businessman Tom Petters had contributed to a number of political campaigns, Norm Coleman's campaign had to quickly distance themselves from Mr. Petters. Tom Petters has been indicted in one of the largest cases of fraud in Minnesota history and faces federal charges including investor fraud and money laundering totaling $3 billion over the past 14 years. The Coleman campaign released this statement about the contributions they have received from Tom Petters, "We are giving the money to the Boys & Girls Club for this cycle".
Earlier this summer Norm Coleman found himself in the middle of another ethics scandal, this one revolving around receiving a sweetheart rental deal from a Republican lobbyist named Jeff Larson. An investigative journalist for the "National Journal" broke the story that Norm Coleman was renting the basement apartment in a townhouse owned by Jeff Larson in the much desired Capital Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C. for $600 a month. Additional inquiries discovered that many of these monthly rent checks had either not been made or had not been cashed by Jeff Larson. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) determined that this rent was well below market value for the Capital Hill neighborhood and filed a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics asking for an investigation because it had not been reported as a gift. The investigation for this violation is currently still pending in the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
With 100's of thousands of people here in Minnesota losing their homes, their jobs, and their 401k savings they can at least take some comfort that their Senator has his clothing and housing needs well provided for.