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Franken Owes $70K

After building his name recognition, campaign war chest and overall credibility and all but securing the Democratic nomination for Senate in Minnesota, satirist Al Franken has stumbled in recent weeks as repeated revelations about his business dealings have made for splashy headlines. Now, Franken has paid $70,000 in back taxes and fines in 17 states where he earned money in recent years, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported today.

Franken blamed his accountant, with whom he has done business for eighteen years, of making fundamental errors that caused the oversights. Those oversights led to overpayments in Franken's two home states, Minnesota and New York, and non-payment in the more than a dozen other states where Franken earned money, usually through appearance and speaking fees. Franken maintained that, after the overpayment, he owed just $4,000 more in taxes, according to an early estimation by his new financial handlers.

The disclosure comes a month and a half after Franken's company, Alan Franken Inc., was charged a $25,000 penalty by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board for not buying workers' comp insurance, as the Star-Tribune reported in mid-March. After an internal investigation, Franken admitted the mistake and paid the fine.

Franken's candidacy was initially greeted with some skepticism from Minnesota Democrats, who wondered whether putting a comedian with a long history of raunchy jokes up against a sitting Senator was a good idea. But Franken raised a significant amount of money, outpacing -- and outspending -- Republican Norm Coleman several quarters in a row. Recent polls have shown the race close, with Coleman leading but near the margin of error.

But Franken's follies could bring a renewed sense of angst to the state's Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, which since Coleman's election in 2002 has been itching for the opportunity to oust the Republican from office. Coleman won election after the death of incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone, whom Coleman had been trailing in polls.

While Franken retains a good chance at knocking off Coleman -- Minnesota is one of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's top targets -- he has seen his poll numbers slip in recent weeks. A rebound of some sort sooner, rather than later, is hugely important to Franken. Too, his research team, which might have caught the mistake before it was discovered by Republicans and the media, might want to go back and take a look at their candidate's record one more time to avoid future missteps.