Sen. Norm Coleman didn't have a lease for the first year he rented a garden-level bedroom in an upper-bracket Capitol Hill row house owned by a longtime friend and Republican operative.

In addition, Coleman didn't make a payment for utilities for the living space until last month, under a verbal agreement he had with his landlord -- St. Paul businessman Jeff Larson -- to settle up after a year in residence, Coleman campaign manager Cullen Sheehan said.

Coleman's Washington living arrangements, first reported in a National Journal article in June, have been a target of criticism by DFL officials and DFL election opponent Al Franken.

Responding to media requests, the Coleman campaign Wednesday released copies of the lease that Coleman and Larson signed July 3, and the $532.88 check that Coleman's wife, Laurie, made out July 14 to Larson for 12 months' worth of unspecified utilities.

Rent questioned, defended

Coleman has been paying Larson $600 per month for a small bedroom and bathroom since moving into the house in July 2007. The DFL Party has charged that he is getting a below-market rate from Larson, whose telemarketing firm has done more than $1.5 million of business with the senator's campaigns since 2001.

In the journal article, Coleman acknowledged that the rental agreement was somewhat loose. In the last year he had missed two rent payments and paid for another month with old furniture he gave Larson.

But Coleman insists that $600 is a fair price on Capitol Hill for the use of a 100-square-foot bedroom with bathroom. His space doesn't include a kitchen.

Shortly after news of the apartment hit the papers, a watchdog group asked the Senate ethics committee to check whether the arrangement is barred by the Senate gift ban. Gifts to senators of $250 or more from friends, including lodging discounts, are banned unless first approved by the panel.

"The more we learn about this sweetheart rent deal, the more concerns it raises," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr. "Now that Coleman is finally answering questions about what he got, it's time for him to start answering questions about what Larson got in return."

Sheehan said Coleman has been consistently candid about the apartment, and another Coleman campaign spokesman, Luke Friedrich, drew a contrast with Franken, saying the Democrat should make his accountant available to talk about his prior tax problems.

Sheehan noted that Coleman allowed National Journal and Star Tribune reporters to see his living quarters. "The senator has been incredibly transparent, honest and open about this entire situation," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455