Coleman cites media in plea to use campaign cash for civil suits


Norm Coleman used media coverage of his dealings with friend and benefactor Nasser Kazeminy to argue to the Federal Election Commission that he should be able to spend campaign cash to fight two lawsuits that implicate him in a cash-funneling scheme.

Coleman’s plea uses the media in two ways: first, as proof that the lawsuits — and thus his expenses — are political, not personal; and second, to argue that campaign funds should pay for lawyers’ time dealing with media inquiries into the matter.

Coleman’s filing (8.4 MB pdf) includes copies of two Minnesota Independent stories among seven clips from media outlets:

Minnesota Independent, “Advocacy group calls for investigations in ‘DonorGate,’” Nov. 12, 2008 (Exhibit F)

Minnesota Independent, “Texas lawsuit naming Coleman should proceed quickly, lawyer says,” Jan. 14, 2009 (Exhibit D)

TPM Muckraker, “Taking stock of the Coleman-Kazeminy charges,” Nov. 13, 2008 (Exhibit A)

Star Tribune, “Money and past bond Coleman, Kazeminy,” Nov. 10, 2008 (Exhibit B)

Star Tribune, “Group wants probe of lawsuits that mention Coleman,” Nov. 13, 2008 (Exhibit E)

Minnesota Public Radio, “Coleman: Allegations should be investigated,” Nov. 12, 2008 (Exhibit G)

Associated Press, “Texas filing seeks to put off suit tied to Coleman,” as it appeared Jan. 9, 2009 at (Exhibit C)

These news stories are offered as evidence of the political context of the lawsuits and the complaints they engendered. Establishing that the suits and complaints are political is key to making the case that Coleman’s legal expenses are directly tied to his duties as senator rather than a personal matter.

This is the summary Coleman gives:

Over the last several months, Senator Coleman’s campaign and legal counsel have been forced to (1) respond to allegations arising from baseless complaints filed by Senator Coleman’s political opponents; (2) monitor ongoing litigation related to these topics, prepare for possible involvement in such litigation, and preserve documents thaqt may prove relevant to the litigation; and (3) provide responses and information to the media on these topics.

Coleman asserts that responding to media inquiries accounts for more than 10 percent of his lawyers’ bills, although information from the campaign about the lawsuits and ensuing complaints has been minimal. And repeated calls and emails from the Minnesota Independent to the Coleman campaign, for example, have never been returned.

Again Tuesday, the Minnesota Independent’s phone message and an email to the Coleman campaign went unanswered. The email asked:

Why did it take five months for the Coleman campaign to formally file an advisory opinion request with the FEC? What is the dollar amount of expenses listed in the table in the FEC filing? When were the costs involving responses to media inquiries incurred? Has the campaign already spent funds on the purposes described in the request?

Others have questions too, dating back to last year, when several of the complaints filed in the matter with the FEC, the Senate ethics committee and the FBI were lodged.

“We just wanted to know what the deal was,” says Denise Cardinal, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, one of the groups whose complaints Coleman cited in his FEC filing. “[Coleman’s campaign] told us they had asked for this. … There is still no clarity. Whose fault is that?”

The FEC ordinarily responds to candidates’ requests for advisory opinions on matters of election law within 60 days, sometimes granting requests for expedited consideration — a request Coleman didn’t make.

So it seems likely the Minnesota Supreme Court will rule on Coleman’s appeal of his election-contest loss to Franken before the FEC rules on Coleman’s request for an opinion on election law.

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