Ilhan Omar Ordered to Repay Thousands for Violating Campaign Finance Rules as Questions Arise About Her Tax Filings

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
June 7, 2019 Updated: June 7, 2019

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) had repeatedly violated state rules when she improperly used campaign funds to pay for non-campaign expenses in 2016 and 2017, Minnesota’s campaign finance and public disclosure board found on June 6.

The board has ordered Omar to repay her former campaign committee nearly $3,500 for using campaign money to pay for personal travel and help with her tax returns. Moreover, she is also required to pay a civil penalty of $500 to the state for using campaign money to travel to a conference in Florida, where she received an honorarium for speaking at the event, according to the board’s investigation findings (pdf).

The investigation was launched after state Rep. Steve Drazkowski filed complaints in 2018 to the board alleging that Omar improperly spent $2,250 in campaign funds to pay for her lawyers for divorce proceedings. Drazkowski then filed a second complaint several months later alleging Omar had made further out-of-travel expenses using campaign money.

Rep. Ilhan Omar at the Capitol
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in Washington on Jan. 10, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“I had observed a long pattern,” Drazkowski told Sinclair at the time. “Rep. Omar hasn’t followed the law. She’s repeatedly trampled on the laws of the state in a variety of areas, and gotten by with it.”

The findings upheld several of Drazkowski’s claims where it found that Omar’s campaign improperly used the campaign money to pay for a plane ticket so Omar could speak at a political rally in Boston, pay for accommodation costs in Washington, where Omar participated in an event for the Girl UP UN conference, as well as pay for travel to Chicago and New York for events in those cities.

Minnesota law states that campaign travel by lawmakers must be related to serving in public office. At the time of the violations, Omar was serving as a state representative from Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, the board found that the $2,250 payment to Omar’s lawyer as a non-campaign disbursement was made to reimburse her lawyer who paid two law firms on her behalf for work on immigration and tax returns.

“The 2016 payment of $2,250 from the Omar committee to the Kjellberg Law Office was not a payment for Rep. Omar’s subsequent marital dissolution,” the board said.

The board found that the first payment of $750 was related to obtaining immigration records, which benefited Omar’s campaign committee. But the second payment of $1,500 was for services related to 2014 and 2015 joint tax returns for her and her current husband, Ahmed Hirsi, who she married in 2018. The board could not find evidence to suggest that the $1,500 payment had benefited her committee.

Several commentators have noted that at the time when Omar filed the joint tax returns with Hirsi, she was legally married to Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, prompting questions about whether Omar’s tax returns had violated any federal or state laws. Her marriage with Elmi formally ended in 2017, reported the Associated Press.

The IRS allows for joint tax filings for married couples, which is defined as two individuals legally married to each other or recognized by the state as married. According to Sterle Law, Minnesota does not recognize common law marriages.

Writer David Steinberg flagged the issue in a Twitter thread. He said, “Today’s report appears to confirm the worst of them: [Ilhan Omar] may have filed EIGHT YEARS of fraudulent federal and state tax returns.”

“The report states that [Ilhan Omar] and Ahmed Hirsi filed joint tax returns in 2014 and 2015. Yet they were not married. [Ilhan Omar] was married to Ahmed Nur Said Elmi from 2009-2017. According to both federal and MN law, this is illegal,” he added.

Drazkowski also raised similar questions in a tweet on June 6.

“Read page 10, item 5 of the report. Rep Omar was married to Ahmed Elmi from 2009 to 2017. Is this federal tax fraud?” he wrote.

The board did not address or mention this in their findings.

Omar’s campaign said in a statement to Fox News that the Democrat was glad the Campaign Finance Board has come to a resolution on this matter, adding that she intends to comply with the orders.

“We have been collaborative in this process and are glad the report showed that none of the money was used for personal use, as was initially alleged,” the campaign said, despite the report finding that the legal services to help with Omar’s tax returns did not benefit the campaign.

In a statement, Drazkowski said the findings against Omar provides “no reassurance to Minnesotans.” He said, “In fact, the report raises even more troubling questions.”

Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.