Crew Files Ethics Complaint Against Senator Norm Coleman Over Questionable Rental Arrangement
Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics asking for an investigation into whether Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) violated the Senate gifts rule by accepting lodging from Republican operative Jeff Larson.
According to National Journal, in July 2007, Sen. Coleman began paying Mr. Larson $600 per month to rent a portion of a basement apartment in a Capitol Hill townhouse owned by Mr. Larson. After the magazine began making inquiries about the senator’s living arrangement, Sen. Coleman “discovered” that he had failed to pay rent in November 2007 and January 2008, and his wife gave Mr. Larson a personal check for the $1,200. Last year, Sen. Coleman sold Mr. Larson some furniture -- a couch, table and chairs and a desk -- to cover one month’s rent, and Mr. Larson held onto Sen. Coleman’s March rent check for three months, until June 17, before cashing it only days after National Journal began asking questions.
Mr. Larson runs the telemarketing firm FLS Connect, which has been paid over a million dollars by Sen. Coleman’s campaign committees and leadership PAC since 2001. Mr. Larson is also the PAC’s treasurer and FLS has been providing it with office space in St. Paul. In addition, Mr. Larson’s wife, Dorene Kainz, has been working in Sen. Coleman’s St. Paul office, but after National Journal asked about her position, Sen. Coleman’s office announced that she would soon be leaving the office.
The Senate gifts rule generally prohibits members and staff from accepting gifts, but has two exceptions under which they may accept lodging: if based on personal friendship or, as long as the giver is not a lobbyist or foreign agent, if the gift constitutes personal hospitality. Because the relationship between Sen. Coleman and Mr. Larson appears to be more business than personal, the gift would not be permitted under the “personal friendship” exception. Because Mr. Larson does not live in the townhouse, but rents it out to others, he is not hosting Sen. Coleman and “the personal hospitality” exception would not apply.
CREW is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to look into whether or not Sen. Coleman is paying fair market value for the apartment, whether Sen. Coleman would have paid the November 2007 and January 2008 rent had National Journal not raised the non-payment as an issue, whether Sen. Coleman and Mr. Larson had agreed that Mr. Larson would not cash the March 2008 rent check, why Sen. Coleman suddenly made up his back rent after National Journal asked questions about it, and why Sen. Coleman’s office announced that Ms. Kainz would be leaving the senator’s employ after National Journal asked about her role.
CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan stated, “Few Americans have landlords who sometimes fail to cash their rent checks, ignore unpaid rent, or accept furniture in lieu of rent. That Sen. Coleman has just such a landlord, who also happens to financially benefit from his relationship with the senator creates exactly the sort of appearance of impropriety that undermines the public’s faith in government.” Sloan continued, “Senators must abide by the ethics rules at all times, not just when they get caught flouting them.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org or contact Jordan Libowitz at 202.408.5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.