Omar to pay penalty for campaign finance violations

Ilhan Omar in 2017 Evan Frost | MPR News

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar violated state rules when she used thousands of dollars of campaign funds to pay for personal out-of-state travel and help on her tax returns, according to a ruling from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on Thursday.

Omar, who was a first-term state representative at the time of the violations, must reimburse her former campaign committee $3,469 to cover those travel and legal costs. She must also pay the state a $500 civil penalty for using campaign cash to travel to Florida, where she accepted an honorarium.

The board found Omar's campaign purchased a plane ticket to Boston to speak at a political rally, paid for a hotel in Washington, D.C., where she participated in an interview for the Girl UP UN conference, and covered her travel to Chicago to accept an award and attend a fundraising luncheon.

The complaints were initially raised by state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who also suggested a $2,250 payment made from Omar's campaign to the Kjellberg law firm covered Omar's divorce proceedings from her second husband.

The board found the fee was actually a reimbursement to two other law firms for work related to immigration and tax documents. They found the $1,500 spent to correct an issue on her tax return was not a campaign related expense and must be reimbursed.

“The evidence indicates that the $2,250 paid to the Kjellberg Law Office was not payment for Rep. Omar’s marital dissolution,” the board wrote in its report. The board directs Omar to file an amended report with more information about the law firm payments.

Drazkowski also called out Omar for accepting honorariums for speaking at college campuses, despite the fact that she served on the House Higher Education Committee at the time. Omar said she returned that money.

“I’m glad this process is complete and that the Campaign Finance Board has come to a resolution on this matter,” Omar’s congressional campaign said in a statement.

“In addition to complying with the Board’s findings, I plan on closing the account from my Statehouse race and distributing the funds to organizations that help train first-time candidates to run for office—so that the next generation of candidates and their teams know how to adequately track and report campaign expenses,” she continued. “I also believe we need to dedicate more resources to our campaign finance agencies—and I look forward to supporting these efforts."

In a statement, Drazkowski said the results provide "no reassurance to Minnesotans." "In fact, the report raises even more troubling questions. I look forward to the further disclosures by Rep. Omar and her campaign."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.