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So what should we think of the fact that Norm Coleman is still attending Senate GOP policy lunches, even though he's not a Senator?

Here's what Eric Schultz, the new DSCC spokesman (and a former communications man for Franken) told us when we asked him for comment on the story: "Springing for lunch is the least they can do for using his prolonged and increasingly desperate legal battle to obstruct the Democratic agenda."

Schultz is referring here to the widespread perception that this lawsuit is only being done in order to prevent Al Franken from being seated, thanks to the unique Minnesota law that prevents certification of a victory while a legal contest is still going, and which has made it a lot harder for Dems to reach 60 votes on cloture motions.

Norm Coleman appeared yesterday on the Armstrong Williams radio show, and the Minnesota GOP has posted this interesting excerpt of Norm responding to Williams' question regarding how Minnesotans feel about their current lack of full representation.

"Those of us who have had the honor to serve as public servants, public officials, we serve with the consent of the governed," Coleman said. "You're not gonna get that consent if the governed -- if the citizens -- don't think the guy who got the most votes is the guy that got elected, the guy that sits in the office."

He later added: "But people in Minnesota understand that you've gotta get it right."

Where were you eight years ago, Norm, when we really needed you?

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) just told reporters that he asked Roland Burris (in a very polite manner) to resign. And Burris said no.

"If I were in your shoes, I would consider resigning," Durbin said, reciting what he told Burris.

Durbin said he also asked Burris whether he would be running for a full term in 2010, and Burris said he hasn't made up his mind. Durbin then recalled telling Burris that it would be very difficult to win either the primary or general elections.

"What I've done is, I made my recommendation to Senator Burris," Durbin said. "And he's told me clearly that he will not resign."

Durbin added that he doesn't have much persuasive power with Burris -- he previously advised Burris during the Blagojevich scandal to not seek or accept the appointment, and Burris did that, anyway.

In what could be the first instance of a congressional committee citing reporting by TMZ (or maybe not!), Democrats on the House Financial Services committee, led by Rep. Barney Frank, have sent a letter to the CEO of Northern Trust bank, demanding that the bank re-pay taxpayers for a lavish spending spree -- featuring a Sheryl Crow concert and gifts of Tiffany's trinkets -- surrounding a recent golf tournament it sponsored for clients.

The splurge, which took $1.5 billion in bailout money last fall, was first reported earlier today by, the entertainment site.

TMZ offered a rundown of the trip's highlights:

- Wednesday, Northern Trust hosted a fancy dinner at the Ritz followed by a performance by the group Chicago.

- Thursday, Northern Trust rented a private hangar at the Santa Monica Airport for dinner, followed by a performance by Earth, Wind & Fire.

- Saturday, Northern Trust had the entire House of Blues in West Hollywood shut down for its private party. We got the menu -- guests dined on seared salmon and petite Angus filet. Dinner was followed by a performance by none other than Sheryl Crow.

There was also a fabulous cocktail party at the Loews. And how's this for a nice touch: Female guests at the Chicago concert all got trinkets from ... TIFFANY AND CO.

In the letter, Frank and his colleagues wrote that the spending "demonstrates extraordinary levels of irresponsibility and arrogance," and called on Northern Trust CEO Frederick Waddell to return the money to taxpayers.

In response to the TMZ report, a spokesman for the Chicago-based bank told the Chicago Tribune that the bank had committed to sponsor the golf tournament over a year before it got bailout money. He continued: "The reason Northern Trust sponsors the Open is it's an integral part of its marketing program. It's about client relationships and showing appreciation for clients."

The full letter from the Financial Services committee Democrats follows after the jump ...

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Josh just posted the video of Michael Steele's appearance on Fox News yesterday, when the national Republican chairman suggested that he would be open to denying political funds to the three GOP senators who supported the economic stimulus law.

See more at

It sounds like a brash bit of moxie from Steele. But when I asked him about it today -- the RNC chief joined ex-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) as an official lunch guest of Senate GOPers -- Steele backtracked.

"It's totally up to the state parties," he told me, in a stark contrast to his comment on Fox that he would "talk to the state parties" about withholding funds to the three stimulus-supporting Republican senators. (The three in question: Arlen Specter, up for re-election in Pennsylvania next year, and Mainers Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both out of cycle in 2010.)

Incidentally, the Senate Republican campaigns chief, John Cornyn (TX) was also bearish on Steele's initial vow. When I asked if he was open to blocking party aid to the three Cornyn said simply: "We're going to support incumbents."

[ed. note: This post has been edited from the original, which incorrectly noted that the winner of last week's Northern Trust golf tournament had received a phone call from the president.]

When it rains, it pours ... hours after a major labor group asked the Treasury Department to deny bailout money to a bank that dropped half a million dollars on lobbying in three months, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) is telling another bank to give back some of its government aid right now.

In a letter to Northern Trust -- which, it should be noted, is the president's personal bank -- Frank and every Democrat on his committee chastise bank president Frederick Waddell for sponsoring a lavish golf tournament in Los Angeles and giving out Tiffany souvenirs to clients while taking taxpayer money.

"We insist that you immediately return to the federal government the equivalent of what Northern Trust frittered away on these lavish events," the Democrats wrote to Waddell.

The Democrats' full letter to Northern Trust is after the jump.

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The House is on the verge of taking up a mortgage aid proposal that would, for the first time, allow judges to modify the terms of primary mortgages for individuals facing bankruptcy -- a reform known as the "cram-down."

The bankruptcy law change is backed by the Obama administration as well as Citigroup (which is increasingly looking like a ward of the Obama administration). But the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and other K Street players are no fans of the cram-downs plan.

In a letter sent today to every House member, a group of financial lobbying giants urges Congress to reject the cram-downs bill. Lobbyists are especially concerned about language in the bill "provid[ing] that even minor violations of the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA) could result in a home equity loan or even a mortgage being disallowed in bankruptcy."

You read that right: K Street is asking Congress to permit lenders to get away with minor violations of the TILA, a 40-year-old law that was passed to protect consumers from banks that hide punitive terms in the fine print of loans.

Read More →

This could get awkward for some Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the small-government scourge of Congressional earmarkers, has introduced a resolution that proposes launching an ethics investigation into the connection between earmarks and campaign contributions, reports Congressional Quarterly.

Meanwhile, the House is about to vote on an omnibus spending bill that not only contains thousands of earmarks, but some for clients of the PMA Group. That's the DC-area lobbying firm that's in the process of disintegrating, amid reports that it was raided by the FBI last month as part of an investigation into its political contributions.

Which lawmakers sponsored those earmarks? CQ reports:

Flake's office released a compilation of eight earmarks worth $7.7 million in the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, sent out the same list and identified the individual sponsors of the earmarks as Reps. Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John B. Larson of Connecticut, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman of California, Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. Reps. Mike Doyle and Jason Altmire , both of Pennsylvania, were identified as cosponsors of one earmark.

All but one of those earmarks is in the section of the bill written by the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is headed by [Rep. Pete] Visclosky.

Several of those members, including Doyle, Ryan, Larsen, Altmire, and Sherman, are among the top recipients of PMA's campaign cash.

Since reports of the FBI raid on PMA, attention has largely focused on Visclosky and on Rep. John Murtha, both of whom have received large amount of money from the firm and sponsored numerous earmarks on behalf of its clients. PMA was founded by a former top Murtha aide, and a former chief of staff to Visclosky lobbied is a PMA lobbyist.

Because Flake's resolution qualifies as "privileged", lawmakers may have to vote on it as early as today.

Flake's office released a compilation of eight earmarks worth $7.7 million in the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, sent out the same list and identified the individual sponsors of the earmarks as Reps. Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John B. Larson of Connecticut, Brad Sherman and Jane Harman of California, Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. Reps. Mike Doyle and Jason Altmire , both of Pennsylvania, were identified as cosponsors of one earmark.

All but one of those earmarks is in the section of the bill written by the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is headed by Visclosky.

Senator David Vitter (R-LA), whose career became mired in controversy back in 2007 when he became implicated in the D.C. Madam prostitution ring, is now calling upon Roland Burris to resign.

That's right. Vitter is challenging someone else's ethics and fitness to serve in the Senate.

In an interview with The Hill, Vitter dismissed any idea that his own personal scandals made him a hypocrite for calling upon Burris to quit. "I honestly don't know anybody who would compare these situations," he told The Hill on Tuesday. "They are dramatically different."

There are differences, obviously. Burris' scandal involves being metaphorically in bed with somebody.

It's clear by this point that Allen Stanford put a lot of energy into wooing members of Congress. He was a prodigious political giver over the last decade, and even seems to have paid for some lucky lawmakers to soak up the sun in Antigua.

But few people, we're guessing, would choose to hang out with John Sweeney, Katherine Harris and co. just for fun. So what did Stanford want in return?

Over at TPMDC, Elana provided part of the answer in two posts that explain how Stanford's firm helped fight an effort to crack down on international money laundering during the late Clinton years, as well as how, shortly after, he met with Martin Frost, at the time the chair of the House Democratic caucus (and to whose political groups Stanford was contributing soft money), in a bid to convince Frost to oppose anti-money laundering initiatives.

But that was hardly the last congressional effort to deal with the problems of offshore business operations. In February 2007, Sen. Carl Levin, joined by then-senators Norm Coleman and Barack Obama, introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would have closed offshore tax loopholes and forced companies to disclose far more information about their operations.

The bill listed 34 jurisdictions as probable locations for U.S. tax evasion -- one of which was Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean island nation where Stanford's sprawling financial empire was headquartered.

Although the measure was not primarily intended to root out large-scale frauds like the one Stanford is now accused of orchestrating, it likely would nonetheless have done so, as a "nice side benefit", according to Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, simply because it would have given US authorities access to far more information about offshore businesses.

What happened to the bill? Levin's office told us it came under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance committee, which appears never to have brought it to a vote.

Since 2000, Finance chair Max Baucus has received $1000 from Stanford's firm, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And Chuck Schumer has taken $17,000, more than all but sitting five members of Congress*.

During 2007, Stanford paid $500,000 to Ben Barnes' firm to lobby the Senate on a range of issues, including "lobbying issues related to banking" according to Senate lobbying disclosure records.

It's worth clarifying: Stanford is hardly the only businessman who'd potentially have had a lot to lose from efforts to crack down on offshore tax loopholes. Numerous Fortune 500 companies have offshore operations that could help them avoid paying US taxes, a recent GAO report found. And "fair tax" advocates tell TPMmuckraker that a broad range range of corporate interests has, over the last decade, been involved in preserving such loopholes. So even if Stanford's influence with lawmakers was a factor here, it's not as if he would have been working alone.

A spokesman for the Senate Finance committee pledged to provide TPMmuckraker with more information about the circumstances under which Levin's bill died. We'll update with anything else we learn.

* This sentence has been edited from an earlier version which referred to the contributions from Stanford received by Bill Nelson, a current finance committee member. Nelson did not join the committee until January of this year -- after the period in question.