Unable to say exactly how it happened, DFL Senate candidate Al Franken acknowledged Friday that his personal corporation wrongly failed to provide employees with workers' compensation insurance in New York for nearly three years.
According to campaign manager Andy Barr, the accountant for Alan Franken Inc. (AFI) who investigated the case for five weeks was unable to figure out "the exact circumstances that led to the oversight."
However, the accountant "has determined that, in fact, AFI was not in full compliance during the period in question," Barr said in a statement. "Therefore, no further attempt will be made to contest the resolved judgment."
New York state officials said Friday that since Franken had paid the $25,000 court judgment entered against AFI last year, they also considered the matter closed.
Not so state Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey, who said Friday that several questions remain unanswered.
"To this day, Al Franken has remained silent" on a number of issues, Carey said at a state Capitol news conference, including how many people he employed and why he didn't respond sooner to the state of New York.
Labor comes to his defense
Labor unions backing Franken in his bid to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman came to his defense, saying the DFLer had properly addressed the matter.
"He made a mistake, got it investigated, found out he was wrong and did the remedy. What more can you do?" said Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, which endorsed Franken last week.
Franken was unavailable for comment Friday, Barr said.
But in an interview, Barr pointed out that several small businesses and other politicians -- among them Republicans Jim Ramstad and John Kline, and DFLers Roger Moe and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone -- have been tripped up by workers' comp rules.
"Sometimes you make mistakes, and that's what happened here," Barr said. "It's not unusual for the Republican Party to take advantage of this. That's not just their M.O., that's their DNA."
Repeated notices sent
The state of New York fined Franken $25,000 nearly three years ago after discovering AFI didn't have workers' comp coverage at a time when it had at least one employee.
Starting in April 2005, the state sent repeated notices to Franken's New York City co-op apartment, seeking an explanation and finally demanding payment of a $25,000 fine for the period without insurance.
But campaign officials said Franken and his wife, Franni, weren't aware of the penalty before it was reported in a Republican blog early last month.
They paid the fine immediately, along with a separate $833 penalty for failing to provide disability benefits insurance for two years.
Carey said that Franken clearly isn't telling the full story, adding that the comedian ought to write an autobiographical sequel to "Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)," his 2003 book on conservatives.
For instance, Carey said, there was still no good explanation why the efforts of New York state and a collection agency had been "unable to reach one of the country's most high-profile comedians. ...
"Al Franken has made a career out of attacking people for failing to live up to their obligations," yet here he "not only failed to abide by the rules, but lied about it," Carey said.
Although the couple moved to Minneapolis in late 2005, voting and business records show Franken was living in New York City for at least seven months after the state first sent him word of the workers' comp lapse.
The Frankens still own their Manhattan apartment, where the state's letters were mailed.
"It was unfortunate and odd that [the Frankens] never got them," Barr said, "but the Republican assertion seems to be that they received all these letters and decided that the savvy thing to do would be to ignore them."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455