Although murmurs of unease emerged over the U.S. Senate challenger's repeated tax woes, most in the party expressed support.
NEW YORK - The accountant isn't talking, but DFLers across Minnesota are.
Allen Chanzis, the longtime accountant for U.S. Senate hopeful Al Franken, refused to comment Wednesday evening when asked about the tax and business irregularities that have troubled Franken's candidacy in recent weeks.
Contacted at his Long Island apartment, Chanzis declined to discuss Franken's statements that the accountant's mistakes caused Franken's taxes to go unpaid in 17 states.
"I've been told to say, 'No comment,'" Chanzis said, without saying who had instructed him to do so. Refusing to discuss any mistakes, he added: "I've been told you have the information you need."
Meanwhile, DFLers said Wednesday that they were standing by Franken, with party officials and activists voicing confidence in his candidacy a day after he acknowledged the unpaid state taxes from 2003 to 2006.
Although most DFL activists interviewed Wednesday said they still support Franken, some party leaders acknowledged being nervous. And state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he had been approached "by numerous people in the last 16 hours" to enter the race.
Bakk, chairman of the state Senate Tax Committee, said that he wouldn't rule out a U.S. Senate bid but that so far he is keeping his sights on a run for governor in 2010. "But there's no question this is pretty serious," he said.
While he probably wouldn't be the one to do it, Bakk said, "there may be a way to take the endorsement away from Franken at the [state party] convention."
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, whose name has also been raised in DFL circles as a potential Senate alternative, denied that the congressman was thinking of a switch from a House reelection bid. "He will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate," said Richard Carlbom, the campaign's political and finance director.
Franken is considered the front-runner in the DFL race to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. He is vying with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a University of St. Thomas professor, for the DFL endorsement at the party's state convention in June.
Franken said Tuesday that he owed $70,000 in back taxes and penalties in 17 states going back to 2003.
He said that he had paid federal and state taxes on all of his income but that Chanzis had failed to properly distribute the tax payments among the states. Instead, Franken said, all of the payments were made in his state of residence at the time.
The result was that he overpaid taxes in New York and Minnesota from 2003 to 2006 and failed to pay in 17 other states where he earned income. He wound up underpaying his total tax bill by about $4,000, he said. He said he has now paid the taxes and penalties.
Damage control was in high gear at Franken headquarters Tuesday night, as staffers and volunteers statewide called 2,400 delegates and alternates to the DFL convention to relate the candidate's take on the tax scrapes.
The effort seemed to have paid off, as a survey of a dozen DFL district and county chairs Wednesday indicated that most thought Franken had dealt forthrightly with the issue and sympathized with his entanglements with a variety of state tax codes.
"It just sounds like a politically motivated thing," said P.J. Voysey of Apple Valley, who chairs the Senate District 37 DFL in Dakota County. "I've been very, very impressed with Al the three or four times I've met him, and I don't think it will have a huge impact."
"I'm more worried about the perception than the reality," said Jeremy Powers of Fridley, who chairs the DFL Senate District 51 in Anoka County.
Powers, a Franken delegate, said his heart sank when he first heard Tuesday's news on the radio, until he learned it was Franken who had reported the information. "It's a big difference whether you're doing it yourself," he said.
"It was the smartest thing he could have done."
However, other DFLers said they wondered about Franken's ability to challenge Coleman.
"I have been a supporter of Al Franken's for a number of months, but I'm very concerned about the perception that it's going to be exploited by the Republican Party," said Buzz Snyder of Sauk Rapids, chairman of the Senate District 14 DFL.
Neither Sam Kaplan nor Vance Opperman, two of the party's biggest donors, said he was seeking a replacement candidate.
Kaplan said he and his law partner own nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in five states, "and every year we rely on our accountants to tell us how much to pay in taxes. I never pay any attention to it and do exactly as I'm told. ... I understand the delegates who have been polled are fine with it," said Kaplan.
Opperman, who supported attorney Mike Ciresi before Ciresi pulled out of the race in March, said he deals with taxes in 30 or 40 states and called it "an accounting nightmare."
He said he wasn't excusing Franken. "But if our test to run for office is going to be you can't ever have run afoul of some bureaucratic nightmare, what you'll end up with is people with rounded edges, no opinion, no backbone," he said. "We've got too many of those already."
Meanwhile, the state Republican Party said Wednesday it had uncovered two other states in which Franken may have done business -- book appearances in Connecticut and Wisconsin, in 2005. Franken campaign manager Andy Barr said both appearances were unpaid promotions.
Staff writers Bob Von Sternberg and Mark Brunswick contributed to this report.
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