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Fox9: Norm's budget-busting home fixup, DonorGate coincide

It's way more smoke than fire, but Fox9 will get attention Friday with a Thursday night report that U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman's $328,000 home renovation project went $86,000 over budget — just as donor Nasser Kazeminy allegedly tried to funnel Coleman's wife $100,000.

Coleman, who would not be interviewed, shared project billing records. They showed he paid his builders the full $414,000 by remortgaging his St. Paul home for $775,000. According to the report, "The senator acknowledges that like a lot of people in America, he now owes more on his home than it's actually worth."

Things to keep in mind: Kazeminy is the target of two lawsuits alleging misuse of corporate funds, but the evidence has not been vetted in court. FBI agents have begun interviewing officials of the Texas company involved, but no charges have been filed. Coleman has denied any knowledge of the unproven scheme and no links to him have been established.

While the Fox9 story "raises questions" connecting the renovation to the potential scandal, the web version includes no explicit comment from Coleman or a spokesperson on the alleged link.

According to Opensecrets.org, in 2006, as the renovation project was beginning, Coleman was the 19th-poorest member of the Senate, with assets of $564,305 and liabilities of between $15,000 and $50,000. The totals include income and investments, but not homes or mortgages.

The 2006 and 2007 reports list Laurie Coleman's employer as Hays Co., the alleged middleman in the Kazeminy-to-Coleman claims; a column for Laurie Coleman's income is left blank on both reports. Norm Coleman's Senate salary is $180,000 according to Fox9.

Fox9 reporter Tom Lyden also says Coleman's kitchen — where an early campaign commercial was filmed — was renovated by a contributor. There are echoes of Ted Stevens in that; the Alaska Senator was convicted of not reporting below-market renovations from a donor/contractor. Lyden says the contributor received a $33,000 fee; there's no proof Coleman got a deal that he had an unmet obligation to report.

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Comments (4)

RE: Norm's $33,000 kitchen renovation done by a contributor. Obviously, I haven't seen the details of Norm's plan and Norm and Laurie don't invite me to their Christmas parties, so I've never hung out in their kitchen. However......in 2007, my husband and I had our 30-year-old kitchen renovated. As kitchen renovations go, it was fairly basic: no sub-Zero appliances, no Italian tile, no granite countertops, no moving of walls or big structural changes......and it cost us more than $33,000. So based on my xperience, Norm either had a very small renovation or got a heckuva deal.

I'm inclined to go with the latter, having seen the commercial filmed in Norm's kitchen and because it seems like Norm is always getting a heckuva deal: i.e. his lovely, astonishingly low-rent apartment on Capital Hill, private jets to Paris and the Caribbean, the alleged Neiman-Marcus suits. I mean, the guy is just one lucky dude, yes? Bargains just seem to find him. And such generous friends and contributors!

Can I add one more thing? If I was Laurie Coleman and I had allegedly been paid $100,000 for four months (May through Sept) of "risk-management" consulting (nice work if you can get it!) AND I had actually done the work AND the FBI and others were now asking questions about it AND a U.S. Senate seat was at stake.....well, geez, I'd be showing my work and fast.

I'd have reporters over to the house and show them the issues I had studied, the numbers I had run and give the press copies of my final report. I'd get previous clients to say what great work I done for them. I'd have my kids testifying that I had been totally useless that summer because I'd been holed up in my office, slaving away, etc. etc.

OR..... if I had never received the money or the work,i.e. if my name had simply been used in some Houston oil-technology company scam, I'd hold a news conference and say, "Geez, I really wish I HAD gotten that job because we were renovating our house at the time and we could have really used the cash."

But instead we've heard.....(crickets chirping).....nothing from Laurie. And it's not like she can't handle the limelight. She's a long-aspiring actress who shows up in Norm's commercials and is marketing her own "Blo and Go" hairdryer invention.

Anyhow, under the circumstances, her silence is just odd. And Norm attracts more bargains and good deals than almost any other human being I know.

If I was Laurie Coleman and I had allegedly been paid $100,000 for four months (May through Sept) of "risk-management" consulting (nice work if you can get it!) AND I had actually done the work AND the FBI and others were now asking questions about it AND a U.S. Senate seat was at stake.....well, geez, I'd be showing my work and fast.

It's not that simple. In order to divulge this information in any meaningful fashion, she would need the permission of not only her employer, but also all of her clients. This is a near-impossible task in many industries, and consulting is probably one of the worst.

Plus, without any compelling legal reason to do this, it is not only a gross invasion of Mrs. Coleman's privacy, but also that of her private employer and private clients.

I hope the investigation continues, but until they are legally compelled to do so, I do not think the Colemans should make (or be expected to make) these types of unreasonable disclosures.

Under the scenario of showing her work, Laurie Coleman might have to black out a few things. But I suspect that anyone who has done $75,000 worth of risk management consulting over the course of five months would have some kind of work to show.....or at least to discuss. . Even if she didn't want to give numbers, they could talk about what they studied.

If she's done excellent work for past clients, she could get their recommendations. Happens all the time in the business world.

I agree with Tony that under normal circumstances, a Senate spouse shouldn't have to show his or her work.

But these aren't normal circumstances.

You know why we have a legal system and investigative units like the FBI? So people can make accusations, and an independent party can investigate and rule on the matter. Nobody has made any accusations against the Colemans; they are tangentially related to an accusation made against another party. And the FBI is investigating that as we speak, and I'm sure if they find Coleman was involved, there will be legal action against Norm and/or action by the Senate. Do you not trust the FBI or the Senate on these matters, or do you think they will act in a prejudiced manner favoring Norm Coleman?

"Preemptive disclosure" based on rumors and innuendo is a terrible, terrible policy. Not only is it grossly unfair to the pseudo-accused, it rarely accomplishes anything either. Heck, I'm not even sure the FBI or Senate investigations will erase many of the public doubts about Coleman -- do you honestly think these rumors would simply go away if Laurie Coleman produces a few documents or recommendations? More likely, anything short of complete 24-hour surveillance footage from the period in question will almost certainly prompt more questions rather than answers.

The responsible course of action here is to trust the authorities (as long as they appear trustworthy) and wait for the matter to play out. Especially with the election behind us, and given that this is 100% rumor and speculation at this point, there simply is no particularly urgent public interest here. True, fair justice sometimes requires patience.