Coffer It Up

Norm Coleman's new job, by the numbers

FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2002 11:00 PM CST--Early yesterday afternoon (Thursday), I called U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman's campaign headquarters. I was working on a column about Coleman's new job and I wanted to know whether the candidate had changed his mind about disclosing what he's doing for the law firm and how much he's getting paid.

On December 6 of last year, the lame-duck St. Paul mayor had announced that before embarking full-time upon his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, he would join the prominent Twin Cities lobbying and law firm of Winthrop & Weinstine. In March the Star Tribune's Greg Gordon reported that Coleman is no longer actually licensed to practice law and posed a few intriguing questions. Sad to say, they went unanswered. He's a "mover and shaker," senior members of the firm hedged when asked to detail the nature of the new guy's duties. "[That's] between the firm, me and my wife," Coleman responded when asked how much he makes.

Today at a little after 4:30 p.m., I was e-mailed a copy of a letter to Wellstone from Coleman campaign headquarters. Me and every other media contact in Coleman's Rolodex. Here's what it said:

"Dear Senator Wellstone: It has come to my attention that representatives from your Campaign have privately contacted members of the Minnesota media over the last several weeks attempting to peddle a story about my employment at the law firm of Winthrop and Weinstine.

"Apparently, there has been encouragement from your representatives that the media should 'look into' what it is that I am doing at Winthrop and Weinstine and my compensation.

"While I would have welcomed a call from you to answer these questions directly, I am pleased to provide your campaign with this information. Additionally, I am forwarding a copy of this letter to the media so that they can have the information your representatives seem so eager to obtain."

Coleman's salary: $140,000. "This level of compensation is, I believe, consistent with someone who has a 26-year legal career, as well as decades of involvement in public policy throughout the State of Minnesota," he writes.

Coleman's duties: "[T]o assist in new business development. My primary role is to facilitate discussions with representatives of my firm, and potential clients, on a host of services that my firm offers. These services may include legal representation, government relations support, public relations and marketing outreach and strategic investment relationships with other clients that my firm represents."

Then the candidate lectures his opponent on how to run a "clean" campaign: "My need to make a living, and to provide for my family, should not be an issue in this campaign.[...] [O]n April 6, 2002 at the Midwest Journalism Conference in Bloomington...we publicly agreed to 'run a race governed by civility and focused on issues'. We even shook hands on it."

At this very moment, Coleman's operatives are no doubt congratulating themselves on a masterful bit of spin: Back in March, when the Star Tribune pops the question, Coleman plays the "none of your business" card and refuses to answer. Now, when the press comes calling again (that's me), his staff sees a golden opportunity to turn this issue against his opponent. Sheer genius.

But I, for one, ain't falling for it, and you shouldn't either. The details of Coleman's new job, and his salary, are the public's business, and they have been all along.


Here's a noteworthy tale, one that filtered out of Missouri in mid-March. In that state, former Republican Congressman Jim Talent is taking aim at the Senate seat held by Democrat Jean Carnahan. Talent, it was revealed, earned upward of $200,000 in 2001 for working two days a week for a Washington, D.C., lobbying and law firm. Democrats griped that the high-paying job, which Talent had taken after losing a gubernatorial bid the previous year, amounted to a subsidy, and that bringing clients to a lobbying firm--wealthy clients with strong GOP ties--was a questionable way for a fellow to prepare for a campaign. Pish tosh, the Republicans replied. (To be precise, a Talent spokesman called the charges "baseless, personal attacks.")

However Missouri voters may have felt about the ruckus, they came out of it more informed. What do Talent's new clients stand to gain if he gets elected senator? Time will tell. But now people know what to look for.

Because political contributions are public record, it's possible to examine some of the new connections Norm Coleman now has, thanks to his job at Winthrop & Weinstine. And it's a good guess that one of the reasons Coleman fired off his letter to Wellstone was to deflect attention from what he figured I was going to write about.

Four of the firm's 70-plus attorneys have contributed to the Coleman campaign since the new guy climbed aboard the mothership: Elizabeth DeCourcy donated $1,000 to the candidate's war chest in late February. Richard Hoel gave $1,000 in mid-March. Scott Dongoske gave $200 later that same month. Also, this past November, shortly before Coleman announced he was joining W&W, Steven Tourek made a $250 contribution. (Disclosure has its limitations: The most recent reporting period for political contributions extends only through the first quarter of this year.)

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