What does Sen. Norm Coleman actually pay for?
On Monday, an aide to the Minnesota Republican refused to officially deny that the Senator had his clothing paid for by a prominent businessman and GOP donor Nasser Kazeminy, either before or during his time in Congress.
"As required, any gift Norm Coleman has received from his friends has been fully reported," spokesman Leroy Coleman replied to Harpers Magazine twice, when asked for a direct yes or no answer.
The revelation comes amidst growing scrutiny over Coleman's finances. The Senator is the fourth poorest member of the United States Senate, but he claims more than $600,000 in market value assets. While in office, Coleman has had a bevy of items either paid for him or discounted on his behalf -- spurring condemnation from good government groups and political opponents in the process.
In addition to the clothing, for example, Kazeminy paid for several trips that Coleman and his family took. That includes a 2005 jaunt to the Bahamas on a private plane for a cost of $3,960, as well as a trip to Paris for the Senator and his wife that cost $2,870.
This wasn't the only exotic travel that Coleman has had privately funded. He took a $3,252.39 trip to Pebble Beach, California for a speaking engagement (and golf outing) sponsored by Hormel Foods. In July 2005, embattled Senator Ted Stevens and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association paid $1,632.14 for Coleman to travel up to Anchorage Alaska for the Kenai Classic, an annual fishing event. On several occasions, the Orange County Republican Party of California has dolled out hundreds of dollars to bring Coleman across the country to speak at its convention.
All of the trips were within the bounds of ethics rules and, in the context of politics, could have served an educational purpose -- as is the intended purposed of privately funded travel. All told, however, from 2003 through 2006 the Senator took 48 trips for a cost of $96,752, making him one of the Senate's most traveled members. Many of those trips were paid for by groups that have legislative interests before government.
Travel costs aren't the only expenditures Coleman has seen discounted on his behalf. This summer, the National Journal reported that the Senator was paying a scant $600 a month for rent in a Washington D.C. townhouse apartment owned by a political benefactor.
Moreover, several of his monthly payments were either paid late or were covered by furniture exchanges. Additionally, Coleman acknowledged in mid-August that he had not paid his utility bill in more than a year, citing a prior agreement with his landlord to cover the costs at year's end.
The disclosure raised the eyebrows of good-government groups. And the Senator subsequently provided a copy of a check for $532.88.
But even the process of cutting a check raises questions about Coleman's finances. The Senator claimed that he paid for his controversial apartment by check and, subsequently, direct deposit. But according to his 2007 personal financial disclosure report, he either has no checking account or fails to list one.
A researcher with the group Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in government, said it was uncommon for members of Congress to not disclose a checking account. But, he added, there were certain conditions -- however unlikely -- that would legally permit it.
"[Members] report bank accounts when they have at least $5,000 at one bank or it produces $200," said the researcher. "So [Coleman] could have a non-interest bearing account worth less than five grand or, I suppose, multiple accounts with several banks, each worth less than five grand... I'm not sure exactly how often people don't list some kind of cash account, but we do see checking/savings/money markets a lot. So many [Senators], if not most, do report them."
Requests for comment from Leroy Coleman, the Senator's spokesperson, were not returned immediately.