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.)

Winthrop & Weinstine has a PAC, to which an additional $4,655 has been contributed, by a dozen of the firm's lawyers. So far in this election cycle, the fund has only made one disbursement, a $1,000 contribution to Coleman on November 17, 2001. I called John Knapp, treasurer of the PAC, to see if there have been any additional transactions that haven't yet been made public. Knapp was about as forthcoming as a fencepost. He did, however, take pains to emphasize that Winthrop & Weinstine is non-political, and that historically donations made by its attorneys and the PAC have skewed Democrat. When I asked how the PAC decided what to donate to whom, he said, "We have an informal process." (So far during this election cycle, no W&W lawyers have contributed to the Wellstone campaign. During the 1996 campaign, two attorneys did; one of them is no longer with the firm.)

Lobbyists have to register with the state and disclose their clients. A handful of W&W's three dozen or so lobbying clients contributed to Coleman's campaign after he announced he was joining the firm, including: Boise Cascade Corp. ($2,500); Eastman Kodak ($1,000); Koch Industries, whose Flint Hills Resources LP division is a client ($3,000); and Verizon Wireless ($2,000). Koch had given an additional $2,000 before Coleman got onboard, Verizon $5,000. Two other firms, ING and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., had earlier contributed $5,000 apiece as well. Finally, late last month the Star Tribune reported that the Prairie Island Dakota Community, another lobbying client, made a $25,000 donation at a March 4 Coleman fundraiser. (Interestingly, that story did not mention the tribe's tie to Coleman's new employer.)

It's tougher to enumerate people who work for Winthrop & Weinstine's lobbying clients, and harder still to identify clients who aren't associated with the firm's lobbying services, because those relationships aren't necessarily registered anywhere. But here are a few: Target CEO Robert Ulrich, who co-chairs the Minnesota Business Partnership Inc., a lobbying client, gave $2,000 before Coleman joined W&W. Larry S. Dowell, president and secretary of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, another client, pitched in $200. (Gary Cerny, CEO of client Reliant Energy Minnegasco, donated $250 on March 6, but the company's tie to a W&W lobbyist expired at the end of that month.) Local businessman Nasser Kazeminy, whose NJK Holding Corp. is represented by the firm in a non-lobbying capacity, gave $50,000.

Of course, none of this is as sexy as the revelation of how much Coleman's making. But it's nuts-and-bolts stuff, and it's important. That's why we have laws to ensure that it's accessible to the public, whether politicians like it or not.

 

The letter to Wellstone from Coleman campaign headquarters:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Leslie Kupchella
May 17, 2002

Coleman letter to Wellstone: let’s stay focused on the issues

Saint Paul---Norm Coleman today issued a letter to Paul Wellstone in response to the recent negative attacks on Coleman’s job at the law firm of Winthrop & Weinstein. The Wellstone campaign and the DFL party have recently issued negative releases regarding Coleman’s salary and his role in the firm’s new business development.

The letter to Wellstone reiterates Coleman’s pledge to run a campaign focused on the issues and not on personal attacks. Coleman challenges Wellstone to do the same.

###END###

Paid for and authorized by Coleman for U.S. Senate.

And the letter…..

May 17, 2002
Senator Paul Wellstone
136 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Also sent via FAX

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.

First, as it relates to my salary with Winthrop and Weinstine, it amounts to $140,000 per year. 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.

Second, my responsibilities

at the firm are not to provide legal counsel, at this time, but to 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.

Third, as your staff knows, my Minnesota Law License is currently inactive. This status will change sometime within the next several weeks as I finalize the

required CLE credits that have to be earned in order to reactivate my license to practice law in the State of Minnesota.

As you might expect, having served as Mayor for eight years, my focus on job creation, business development, holding the line on taxes and spending and other efforts that helped to create 18,000 new jobs and produce more than $3 billion in new public and private investment, did not leave me much time to practice law.

Senator, I know that you and I both share a passion for public service. While we may have substantial disagreements on philosophy and how the job of public service should be done, I know that we both have committed ourselves to running clean campaigns, focused on the issues.

My need to make a living, and to provide for my family, should not be an issue in this campaign. I would shudder to think that any American who chooses to run for public office, whether it be for City Council, or United States Senate, should ever be put in a position where they are told that only those with wealth and means can seek public office. It isn’t every American, and I am not one of them, who has millions of dollars of personal or family wealth that affords them the opportunity to seek public office and not have gainful employment. Not being a current officeholder, I am not in the position to run for office while the taxpayers pay my salary. I am simply trying to balance my obligation to provide for my family while campaigning for public office.

You have said that you are a man of your word. And, when you and I joined together on April 6, 2002 at the Midwest Journalism Conference in Bloomington to commit ourselves to running an above-board campaign, I know that I committed myself, and my campaign to that promise. At that event, we publicly agreed to "run a race governed by civility and focused on issues”. We even shook hands on it.

My staff has been firmly directed to stick to the issues and not get involved in the kind of behind the scenes skullduggery and "cloak and dagger" activities that has turned so many voters off over the years.

I recommit to you my words and promise of April 6th to focus on the issues of importance to the people of Minnesota. I hope that Minnesotans can count on you and your campaign to recommit to those values as well.

Sincerely,

Norm Coleman

 

Intern Ben Malakoff contributed research for this column. Send e-mail to tfinkel@citypages.com.

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