Congress

Rep. Ilhan Omar to reimburse $3,500 in misspent campaign funds

Omar pledged the money to organizations that train rookie political candidates

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., attends a news conference at the House Triangle, on legislation to create special immigrant visas for Iraqi and Afghan wartime translators on Thursday, May 16, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Minnesota regulators say Rep. Ilhan Omar violated state campaign finance rules and must reimburse $3,469.23 in campaign funds that were improperly directed to accounting expenses and out-of-state travel. 

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ordered Omar to reimburse her campaign committee for the payments Thursday. She must also pay a $500 civil fine.

[Rep. Omar won’t apologize for new comments, Dems plan anti-Semitism rebuke]

As a candidate for the Minnesota statehouse in 2016, Omar made a $1,500 payment to her lawyer, who used the funds to compensate Frederick and Rosen Ltd., an accounting firm. The payment was made so the campaign committee could independently obtain the candidate’s tax returns in order to rebut a blogger’s unfounded accusation that she married her brother.

During that process, the accounting firm flagged some errors in Omar’s tax returns — an improper personal benefit from a campaign expense, the board determined.

[FBI investigating assassination threat against Rep. Omar scrawled on gas station bathroom stall]

Omar also violated campaign finance rules when she used committee funds for some out-of-state travel expenses, including a trip to Washington, D.C. to give a speech at a girls’ empowerment conference and a trip to Chicago to receive a humanitarian award, the board concluded.

Omar pledged to comply with the board’s order to pay back her campaign committee in a statement. She said she will then shutter the committee and distribute the funds to organizations that train rookie candidates, “so that the next generation of candidates and their teams know how to adequately track and report campaign expenses,” Local CBS affiliate WCCO reported

“I’m glad this process is complete and that the Campaign Finance Board has come to a resolution on this matter,” the congresswoman’s statement read. 

The board began investigating Omar after it received complaints from Republican state Rep. Steve Drazkowski in July and October of 2018.

The board determined that personally reimbursing the funds would “resolve the violations ... and all other violations that could have arisen out of the reports filed by the Omar committee.”

Watch: Ilhan Omar: Diversity in Congress Leads to Better Policy

But Drazkowski, who had alleged in his complaint to the board that the payments made to her lawyer related to her divorce, promised further scrutiny of her disclosures in a press release Thursday night.

Omar accused Drazkowski of harboring “an insane obsession with what is in my files” in an interview with the Star Tribune last year.

A favorite target of conservative blogs, Fox News pundits and even the president, Omar has been subject to more scrutiny than most first-term lawmakers. But the 5th District Democrat is not the only freshman member of Congress who has been criticized for campaign finance violations. 

Rep. Ross Spano of Florida, a Republican, acknowledged in a letter to the Federal Election Commission soon after he was elected to office in November that he likely violated federal campaign finance rules against straw donations by taking out $180,000 in loans from two benefactors and directing approximately the same amount to his campaign.

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