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Coleman ally files complaint against Franken

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and JEREMY HERB
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • September 16, 2010 - 9:05 PM

WASHINGTON - More than a year after the U.S. Senate recount, a top political lieutenant to deposed GOP incumbent Norm Coleman has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Al Franken, the victor in the Minnesota election contest.

Coleman strategist Jeff Larson, who heads the direct marketing company FLS Connect, filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Thursday accusing Franken of soliciting campaign funds from his appearance at a recent Minneapolis hearing on how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should govern the Internet.

The complaint was filed in the name of Senate Accountability Watch, an independent group Larson said he formed a month ago "to help hold senators accountable for their actions, words and deeds."

It is the group's only ethics complaint thus far. Larson said in an interview that while he informed Coleman about his action against Franken, Coleman is not involved in the effort.

Franken spokeswoman Casey Aden-Wansbury said he did nothing wrong. "Everything we did is well within what is permitted by Senate ethics rules," she said.

In a two-page letter, Larson asked the Senate to investigate an e-mail that Franken's campaign committee sent out the day of last month's hearing touting his role as a champion of "Net neutrality" and asking supporters if they "felt like chipping in a few bucks."

An image in the Aug. 19 e-mail says "Watch Al stand up for net neutrality at an FCC hearing," a reference to the debate over how much control broadband providers should have over Internet content.

Despite the e-mail's reference to an "FCC hearing," the event was actually sponsored by three advocacy groups -- Free Press, Center for Media Justice and the Main Street Project, a Free Press spokeswoman said. The groups invited two FCC commissioners and Franken, an outspoken advocate for strong Net neutrality rules.

Larson alleges that regardless of whether it was an official FCC meeting, Franken's solicitation blurred a line between politics and his official Senate duties. "He speaks as a United States senator, and then tries to raise money off the hearing," Larson said.

A spokesman for the Senate Ethics Committee said he could not discuss the complaint. But the Senate ethics manual allows for "some inadvertent and minimal overlap between the conduct of official Senate duties and campaign activities."

Such accusations are not rare in politics. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was criticized earlier this month when his national political organization sought contributions in connection with his decision to limit the state's use of federal funds made available under the new health care system. Pawlenty was not accused of breaking any rules.

Larson, a longtime GOP activist, was last in the national spotlight for his role in procuring the campaign wardrobe of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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