Coleman's Use of Campaign Funds for Lawyer Fees May Be Illegal

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Sen. Norm Coleman's use of campaign dollars to pay legal fees may be in violation of federal laws -- the latest twist in the case of a friend accused of illegally funneling money to the Minnesota Republican.

Coleman, whose re-election bid against Democratic challenger Al Franken remains in a recount, has hired a top Minnesota criminal defense attorney, Doug Kelley, to work with authorities investigating the claims, which the senator calls "baseless."

Under Federal Election Commission law, Coleman is forbidden from using campaign funds for legal fees unless they are for purposes related to his re-election.

"We intend to have any legal fees related to what we believe to be a politically inspired legal action to be covered by the Senator's campaign," Coleman spokesman Luke Friedrich said in a statement sent Thursday to "We will be seeking the necessary approvals at the proper time to ensure that this is done in strict accordance with all appropriate laws and rules."

Coleman has denied all allegations stemming from two lawsuits that claim his friend, Nasser Kazeminy, tried to send $75,000 from Deep Marine Technology, a Texas oil-drilling company Kazeminy controls, to Minneapolis insurer Hayes Companies Inc., where Coleman's wife, Laurie, is employed.

The first civil lawsuit -- filed in Texas by former Deep Marine CEO Paul McKim -- lists Kazeminy as one of 12 defendants. The second lawsuit -- filed in Delaware by Deep Marine shareholders -- lists McKim, Kazeminy and 12 other defendants.

Coleman is not listed as a defendant in either lawsuit, and the lawsuits do not claim that Coleman or his wife ever received the alleged payments -- or knew of the alleged plot.

In calling the allegations in the lawsuits "politically inspired," Coleman's campaign is justifying the use of campaign dollars by claiming the lawsuits would not have arisen if he were not up for re-election.

"One can argue that any dispute that comes up during re-election was politically inspired," David Schultz, elections law professor at Hamline University, told

"Him simply making that assertion doesn't make it tied to his campaign," Schultz said.

"There's no question he can solicit and use campaign funds for the purposes of litigation surrounding his re-election, but the civil lawsuit in Texas has no bearing on his efforts to win re-election," he added. "I therefore don't think under current law he can use campaign funds to pay for his legal defense."

FEC spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger, who declined to comment on Coleman's case specifically, said the FEC reviews the spending of all campaign dollars to determine proper use.

She said a group of six commissioners will decide on a case-by-case basis what is considered "personal use."

"As far as campaign funds go, federal candidates and federal office holders cannot use campaign funds for anything deemed "personal use,'" she told

"And personal use is defined as any expense that would exist irrespective of that person being a federal candidate or federal office holder," she said.