Two suit-related scandals rocked Republican politics in 2008. The first involved Sen. Norm Coleman and the second Gov. Sarah Palin. These sartorial scandals shared an unlikely epicenter: Neiman Marcus, Minneapolis.
Last month, Ken Silverstein reported that a Minnesota businessman bought suits for US Sen. Norm Coleman:
I’ve been told by two sources that Kazeminy has in the past covered the bills for Coleman’s lavish clothing purchases at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. The sources were not certain of the dates of the purchases; if they were made before Coleman joined the Senate in 2003, he obviously would not be required to report it under Senate rules. But having a private businessman pay for your clothing is never a good idea if you’re a public official (Coleman was mayor of St. Paul from 1994 to 2002). [Harper's]
Note the modus operandi. Nasser Kazeminy, the wealthy GOP donor, reportedly covered Coleman’s bills. Kazeminy and Coleman didn’t go pick out the snazzy threads together. Instead, Coleman picked out the suits and Kazeminy somehow arranged to pick up the tab later.
Norm Coleman spearheaded the drive to bring the Republican National Convention to Minneapolis-St. Paul. His ally in this endeavor was Jeff Larson, Rove protege, aka the most powerful GOP consultant you’ve never heard of.
Larson also happens to be Coleman’s landlord in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, Larson has been accused of charging Coleman below-market rent for his D.C. digs, which if true, would violate Senate ethics rules regarding undisclosed gifts.
Coleman’s campaigns have been major clients of Larson’s consulting firm, FLS Connect. Larson’s firm also raked in big bucks from the RNC, the Minnesota GOP, and, most recently, the McCain campaign.
Coleman hired Larson’s wife Dorene to work in his senate office.
When asked whether Kazeminy paid for his suits, Coleman and his spokesmen were legalistic to the point of absurdity. All the Coleman camp will say is that Norm Coleman has reported every gift he has ever received. Coleman will neither confirm nor deny that Kazeminy bought his suits.
Campaign finance records show that Coleman has declared gifts from Kazeminy in the past, specifically, trips on businessman’s personal jet.
Now on to the subject of Sarah Palin’s lavish wardrobe. Nobody will admit to authorizing the extravagant expenditures. McCain and Palin aides and the RNC broke ranks during the waning days of the campaign and began pointing fingers at one another.
Despite their differences, all sides agreed that the duds did not become Palin’s property, i.e., everyone was adamant that these items were not gifts. By law, campaign contributions cannot be spent on clothing or other personal expenses, although party committees may have more leeway in this regard. At the very least, if Palin kept the clothes she would have had to pay taxes on merchandise worth more than her annual salary as governor of Alaska.
This complex non-ownership is an important wrinkle in Suitgate, to which we will return.
Newsweek has uncovered some additional details that suggest that mysteries of Norm’s suits and Sarah’s suits may share a common thread, as it were:
NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin’s shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain’s top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.
Where did Coleman’s suits come from? Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. How were they paid for? A wealthy GOP donor reportedly picked up the tab. Where did many of Sarah Palin’s lavish articles originate? Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. Aide Nicole Wallace says she sent Palin to Neiman’s to buy three suits. The Newsweek story implies that a wealthy GOP donor had agreed to pick up the tab for the suits, but was surprised when Palin went on a much bigger shopping spree.
Here’s the kicker. Who signed for Sarah Palin’s Neimans’ outlay? Why, none other than GOP consultant and Coleman ally Jeff Larson.
All this makes me wonder whether the anonymous GOP donor was Nasser Kazeminy himself. How many GOP bigwigs run a tab at Neiman’s for Republican makeovers? Even if a another wealthy donor payed for Palin’s clothes, the episode might shed light on how Republicans do business in the Twin Cities.
Many observers wondered why Coleman chose "every gift I’ve ever received" as his Suitgate soundbite. His staffers insist that he reported every gift he was obliged to report on his Senate financial disclosure forms. On its face, the declaration seems to imply that Kazeminy didn’t give Coleman any suits. But if that’s the case, why wouldn’t Coleman simply deny that Kazeminy gave him suits?
What if Kazeminy bought suits for Norm Coleman’s senate campaign in the same way that Sarah Palin’s handlers allegedly acquired her wardrobe without actually giving it to her? Coleman is Larson’s employer through FLS Connect, and Larson was Palin’s personal shopper. So, the Kazeminy theory partially explains means, motive, and opportunity.
Let’s hope more details emerge as McCain staffers turn on Sarah Palin.
[Photo: Norm Coleman and Todd Palin at a rally in Minnesota]