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Coleman Lawyer was at Center of 2004 Swift Boat Vets Scandal

Alex Constantine - February 2, 2009

Muriel Kane
February 1, 2009

Norm Coleman's efforts to force a reconsideration of the recount that showed him losing his Minnesota Senate seat to Democratic challenger Al Franken are being led by attorney Ben Ginsberg, who has a long history of involvement in questionable Republican campaign activities.

Not only was Ginsberg one of the senior lawyers in the Bush v. Gore recount case in 2000, but in 2004 he was at the center of a Republican scandal when he was found to be advising both the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign.

When the Swift Boat Veterans first began running commercials which falsely suggested that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had lied about his Vietnam War record, the Bush campaign was quick to deny having any connection with the group.

However, it soon turned out that Ginsberg, who was the chief outside counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, was also giving legal advice to the Swift Boat Veterans on complying with campaign finance rules. Ginsberg resigned from the campaign in August 2004 following these revelations.

At the same time, Ginsberg was also serving as counsel for Progress for America, another massively-funded 527 organization with many similarities to the Swift Boat Veterans. During the last three weeks before the November 2004 election, Progress for America was the largest-spending outside group, buying $16.8 million of television and radio time, while the Swift Boat Vets were second with $6.3 million. These two groups were also linked in other ways besides their reliance on Ginsberg's advice, such as their use of the same advertising firm, Mentzer Media Services.

Ginsberg's ties to Progress for America appear to have been particularly close. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, "During the fall of 2003, reported Peter Stone of the National Journal, Ginsberg talked 'across the country to prominent fundraisers,'asking them to serve on PFA's advisory board and to rope in large soft-money contributions."

The largest of PFA's funders was Dawn Arnell, of the subprime mortgage giant Ameriquest, who donated $5 million. According to the Wall Street Journal:

"During the housing boom, the subprime industry succeeded at more than just writing mortgages. It also shot down efforts by some states to curtail risky lending to borrowers with spotty credit. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., until recently one of the nation's largest subprime lenders, was at the center of those battles. Working with a husband-and-wife team of Washington lobbyists, it handed out more than $20 million in political donations and played a big role in persuading legislators in New Jersey and Georgia to relax tough new laws. Those victories, in turn, helped blunt efforts by other states to crack down on reckless lending, critics of the industry contend."

Ginsberg's ties to Progress for America may also indicate how he came to serve as Coleman's lawyer. PFA was founded in 2001 by Tony Feather, a long-time associate of Karl Rove and partner in the DCI Group and its sister firm, Feather-Larson-Synhorst (now known as FLS Direct.) Feather stepped aside from running PFA when he began working for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign but handed its operation over to DCI employee Chris LaCivita, who also served as an adviser to the Swift Boat Veterans on media strategy.

Coleman himself is also intimately connected with FLS-Connect. As of last September, he had paid the firm almost $645,000 in consulting fees for the 2008 election and over $1.5 million since 2001.

Not only that, but according to a complaint filed last fall with the FEC by the DFL Party (the local name for the Democrats), "The owner of FLS-Connect, longtime Coleman confidant and powerful Republican operative Jeff Larson, is the treasurer of Coleman’s political-action committee."

That complaint alleged "illegal in-kind corporate contributions" to Coleman by two groups which had run issues ads attacking Franken for his support of the Employee Free Choice Act. Those groups were also FLS clients.

It was further reported that "Coleman rents living space in the English-basement apartment of a million-dollar townhouse that Jeff Larson owns in Washington, D.C., for which Coleman pays far under market value. In addition, Coleman shares the apartment with offices of FLS-Connect."

Just recently, the DFL Party filed a fresh complaint with the FEC concerning the recount, suggesting that it is being illegally funded by the Republican National Lawyers Association:

"The complaint, filed today with the FEC, alleges that: the RNLA is funding Coleman's recount committee with illegal contributions in excess of legal limits; the RNLA is funding Coleman's recount committee with illegal contributions from corporations; the RNLA has failed to register with the FEC, as its contributions to Coleman's recount require it to; and Coleman has failed to report any contributions from the RNLA."

Perhaps Ginsberg's network of "prominent fundraisers" -- or at least those who haven't been caught in the subprime mortgage meltdown -- should be scrutinized for any interest they may have in the Minnesota recount.


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