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WASHINGTON - Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman is taking on a new consulting job while he fights to win back his U.S. Senate seat.
Coleman, 225 votes behind in his recount battle with DFLer Al Franken, has agreed to become a strategic adviser to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a 40,000-member group that advocates for Jewish causes to GOP leaders.
While Coleman acknowledged that he needs the money, he said he will not be engaged in congressional lobbying on the group's behalf, in accordance with Senate rules.
"I'm not part of the millionaire's club," Coleman said. "Mr. Franken is. A lot of senators are. I'm not. I still have to pay a mortgage. Got two kids in college. My wife does eat on occasion. I will have to do some work and earn a living."
Coleman's ties to the group go back to his days as mayor of St. Paul, said Matt Brooks, the RJC's executive director. "This was a natural fit because it allows him to engage in something that he cares very deeply about."
The coalition gave $10,000 to Coleman's reelection campaign, part of $173,500 it gave to GOP House and Senate candidates in the last election. It has also funded seven trips for Coleman between 2003 and 2006, including a 2004 visit to Israel. Most of the trips, totaling nearly $14,000, were for RJC speaking engagements.
The coalition's political arm reported expenditures of $60,000 to lobby Congress last year, including support for Coleman's "Broadcaster Freedom Act," which would block rules requiring broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints on controversial topics.
Democrats raised ethical questions about the job, citing Senate rules that require members to report negotiations involving private employment, and preventing ex-senators from lobbying for two years.
But Brooks said Coleman's job requires "absolutely zero lobbying." Instead, he will be expected to travel the country working on outreach and fundraising efforts. He already has trips scheduled to New York, Florida and California, starting in February.
Based in state, with travel
Coleman said he entered into a contract with RJC to speak at group events, help it recruit members and provide insight and advice on Middle East issues. He will be based in Minnesota, although much of his work will be done in meetings and events around the country.
And he's hanging onto his apartment on Capitol Hill. The apartment became an issue during the campaign, when Democrats charged that he was getting a sweetheart deal in rent from his landlord, a St. Paul businessman who does business with the Republican Party. Coleman denied that was the case.
"I fully anticipate I will be going back to the Senate. I wasn't looking for anything long term," he said.
Neither Coleman nor Brooks would divulge what he is getting paid or what benefits the RJC is providing. Coleman said only that it's enough to pay his mortgage, feed his family and keep his kids in college.
Brooks said he approached Coleman about the job after his Senate term expired Jan. 3. Accordingly, campaign staffers said, Coleman was not required to file public disclosure statements about the job talks. "He's not a member of the Senate," said Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake. "The rule doesn't apply to him."
Coleman said he was casting about for a job shortly after his term ended with the election's outcome still unresolved. He said that the arrangement with RJC was arrived at mutually. "I looked around at things I wanted to do and could do on a temporary basis ... and they asked me, 'Can you help?'" he said.
DFLers also sparred with Coleman about what the new job means for his hopes of winning his recount challenge in court.
"Norm Coleman taking this job is a tacit admission that he doesn't expect to return to the Senate," said John Stiles, a DFL spokesman.
Said Coleman: "There's an absurdity in the way the DFL deals with this. I have to assure you, no matter what I'd do, they'd attack. I think they'd like to starve me out of doing this [recount] appeal."
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753 Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164