Coleman Seeks Permission to Tap Campaign Fund for Legal Fees

Posted May 12, 2009 at 1:30pm

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) — who continues to contest election results that appear to have Democrat Al Franken winning the Senate seat by a whisker — is asking the Federal Election Commission for permission to use campaign funds for legal fees related to allegations that a supporter funneled payoffs through Coleman’s wife.Coleman’s year-end campaign filings showed he had already spent close to $300,000 in legal fees, and his legal team has since expanded to include several of the Gopher State’s best-known criminal defense attorneys.Just prior to last year’s election, Paul McKim alleged that longtime Coleman friend and supporter Nasser Kazeminy funneled a $75,000 payment to Coleman through Deep Marine Technology, a company primarily owned by Kazeminy. McKim is the former CEO of the company.McKim alleged that at Kazeminy’s direction, the company made payments to an insurance broker in Minneapolis that employed Coleman’s wife, Laurie, despite the fact that the insurance company never provided any services to Deep Marine. McKim alleged that the only purpose of the payment was to provide cash assistance to the Colemans. A second suit among shareholders in Delaware contains essentially the same allegations.Coleman is not charged with any wrongdoing — the cases are disputes between shareholders — but Coleman’s campaign is now acknowledging that it has paid lawyers to track the cases and provide responses to press inquiries.In an April 3 letter to the FEC that was publicly released on Tuesday, Coleman attorney Benjamin Ginsberg said the campaign should be able to cover the costs of monitoring the “baseless complaints— because the allegations arise solely because of Coleman’s former position as a U.S. Senator.“Senator Coleman was targeted in the two lawsuits just before the 2008 election because of his position as a Senator and a candidate, and for no other reason whatsoever,— Ginsberg wrote.In addition, the allegations include a statement attributed to Kazeminy that he wanted to get money to Coleman because Senators are paid poorly, which ties the charges directly back to Coleman’s status as an officeholder.In addition, two organizations have filed complaints before the Senate Ethics Committee, which has jurisdiction over Coleman only as long as he is a Member of the Senate, Ginsberg noted. Therefore, legal fees related to responding to those complaints should also be paid by the campaign.In general, campaign money cannot be used for personal expenses, but the FEC has allowed the use of campaign funds to defray legal costs if the campaign can show that the costs are directly related to the candidate’s position.