Watchdog group files ethics charge against Coleman

Sen. Norm Coleman
A watchdog group has called on the U.S. Senate to launch an ethics investigation into Sen. Norm Coleman's apartment rental in Washington D.C.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

A government watchdog group is calling for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's Washington D.C. rental arrangement.

The National Journal reported last week that Coleman has missed payments for the Capitol Hill apartment he's been renting from long-time friend and political business associate Jeff Larson.

Democrats allege that the $600 a month Coleman is supposed to pay for the apartment is well below market value.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says Coleman appears to be violating rules that prohibit senators from accepting certain types of gifts.

"This isn't a hidden rule. There's nothing tricky about it, and he's required to pay fair market value rent on an apartment that he's renting from this Republican operative. And it appears that Mr. Coleman may in fact not have been paying that rent because of their business relationship," said Sloan.

Coleman acknowledges that he missed rental payments, but says he's up to date now.

Coleman's campaign called the complaint politically motivated. It also called Melanie Sloan, the head of CREW, a "surrogate" for Coleman's DFL challenger, Al Franken.

"Melanie Sloan was a featured guest who made at least 50 appearances on Al Franken's radio show -- appearances that were marked with theme music dedicated to her, and made her a reliable attack dog for the Democrat Party," said Coleman campaign spokesman Luke Friedrich.

And the Minnesota Republican Party pointed out that one of CREW's board members, John Luongo, had contributed $2,000 to Franken, while another board member, Daniel Berger, donated $44,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The GOP also noted that Sloan had worked as counsel for the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee when it was chaired by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who now chairs the DSCC.

"In the interest of full disclosure, CREW must acknowledge its close relationship to Al Franken, and explain how they can claim to be an independent group with its long history with Democrats and specifically Al Franken and Charles Schumer," said Minnesota GOP Chairman Ron Carey.

CREW spokeswoman Naomi Seligman responded that prior to this complaint, the group had filed complaints against three other senators this year, all Democrats.

"The Republican committees use our work when we target Democrats all the time," she said. "It's only when we target Republicans that they turn around and try to discredit us."

Seligman said that Sloan appeared as a guest on Franken's show to discuss government ethics issues.

The complaint comes a day after the Minnesota DFL held a news conference suggesting Coleman may have violated the gifts rule by paying below-market value for the living space.

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