Palin shopper Jeff Larson is just trying to do his job, stay on the down-low

Categories: Elections

The Star Tribune's Kevin Diaz snagged an interview with the infamous Jeff Larson over a cup of tea. We think WCCO's Esme Murphy might be jealous. He makes it look so easy!

Larson, the Minnesota Republican behind Sarah Palin's new wardrobe, has been relatively quiet this election season despite several national cases of scrutiny against his rental deal with Sen. Norm Coleman, Gov. Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe and the John McCain robo calls.

More from the Star Tribune:

"I want to return to obscurity," he said Thursday over tea in a coffee shop near the White House.

Larson, the CEO of the convention host committee and founding partner of the influential Twin Cities telemarketing firm FLS Connect, declined to discuss Palin' s $75,000 shopping trip at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis.

Federal Election Commission reports show that Larson has been reimbursed, and the Republican National Committee has said that all the merchandise will be given to charity after the election.

The flap, which Democrats have used to challenge Palin's hockey-mom image, is only the latest to ensnare the 49-year-old telemarketing entrepreneur from Grand Forks, N.D. He has also been linked to a controversial phone bank campaign against Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. On top of that, he has gotten heat for renting a $600 room to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, with whom he has longtime political ties.

Larson says both raps are unfair.

For starters, he denies any involvement with the nationwide spate of "robo-calls" trashing Obama, although he acknowledges that FLS Connect is behind the live-operator calls Minnesota residents have received in the past week on behalf of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

As for the Democrats' criticism that the calls are intended to create fear about their candidate, Larson says "call the campaign."

He's just the guy who arranges the phone calls. "I'm like the printer." he said. "If you get a piece of campaign mail you don't like, you don't call the printer."

The Palin wardrobe story hasn't blown over yet either and the New York Times is reporting on some fishy reimbursements they can't seem to verify.

Consider also the $4,902.45 charge at Atelier New York, a high-end men’s store, presumably for Ms. Palin’s husband, Todd, the famous First Dude.

Karlo Steel, an owner there, said he had gone through the store’s receipts for September, twice, and found no sales that matched that amount, nor any combination of sales that added up to the total. Because the store carries aggressively directional men’s wear, he caters to a small clientèle and knows most of his customers by name, as well as the history of their purchases.

When The Caucus called Mr. Steel back to ask him to also check August sales just in case, Mr. Steel said he found one purchase that came close to the amount in the campaign finance reports but said that he knew who that customer was and it certainly was not Mr. Palin. Neither was it Jeff Larson, the Republican consultant who showed up in campaign finance records as the one who footed the initial bill before being reimbursed by the R.N.C.

“We have no recollection of that sale and no idea what they are talking about,” Mr. Steel said.

There was similar confusion when The Caucus spoke with Jon and Wing Witthuhn, owners of Pacifier, a high-end children’s boutique in Minneapolis, where records show two charges of $98, one at Pacifier’s downtown location and another at its store in the northeast part of the city.

Mr. Witthuhn clearly recalled one of the $98 charges because it was the night of Sept. 3, just hours before Ms. Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention. A woman burst into his store, he recalled, saying she needed outfits for several children, including a 6-month-old boy. Mr. Witthuhn explained they did not carry clothes beyond toddler age but helped her pick out a blue-striped convertible romper by Egg Baby ($60), a matching monkey-ear hat ($32) and Trumpette baby socks ($6).

After the woman explained her shopping was related to the convention and paid with a credit card number she read off of a Blackberry, it dawned on Mr. Witthuhn that he was potentially helping to outfit one of the country’s most famous infants—Trig Palin, Ms. Palin’s youngest.

Sure enough, when Mr. Witthuhn turned on the television that night, there was Trig Palin wearing the outfit purchased at Pacifier, right down to the socks—but sans the monkey-ear hat.

But as for the other $98 charge, both Mr. Witthuhn and his wife, Wing, were stumped. After going through their receipts, Mrs. Witthuhn found another $98 purchased on Sept. 9 but it was for clothing for a 2-year-old — the Palins do not have a 2-year-old.

The purchase was a little black t-shirt featuring the Ramones, as well as a striped hoodie, a pair of pants with a tiger on it and a pair of cargo pants, all from Tea Collection.

“Sounds like somebody is using it for personal use,” Mrs. Witthuhn said.


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