Minnesota Campaign Finance Board Launches Second Investigation Into Ilhan Omar

Credit: Zoe Griffing Heller/Wikimedia Commons

The Minnesota Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is launching a formal investigation into a complaint that state Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) may have improperly used campaign resources for personal travel expenses.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) recently filed a complaint with the CFB based on findings in the 2017 year-end report for Omar’s campaign committee. The report showed over $3,000 in travel-related disbursements, including airfare to Estonia and travel expenses to Massachusetts so Omar could speak at a rally for a Boston City Council candidate.

Last week, the CFB conducted an hearing to determine whether probable cause exists for Omar’s use of campaign resources for personal travel expenses. Now, according to Drazkowski, the CFB has determined probable cause exists and are moving forward with a formal investigation.

“I’m pleased the Campaign Finance Board is taking Representative Omar’s blatant misuse of taxpayer resources seriously,” Drazkowski said. “Omar doesn’t get to pick and choose the rules she wants to follow, yet it appears that’s exactly what she’s been doing for the past two years.”

According to Drazkowski, the CFB’s probable cause determination finds that Omar’s “out of state travel may not have been to events that would have helped a candidate in the performance of state legislative duties.”

Under state law, money collected for political purposes may not be converted to personal use. In addition, the CFB’s Candidate Handbook specifies what constitutes “reasonable costs of serving in office” that may be covered by campaign committee funds. “Trips for general fact-finding and relationship building” does not fall under that provision, according to the handbook.

This is the second complaint against Omar that the CFB is looking into. Earlier this year, Drazkowski filed a complaint against Omar’s committee for using campaign money to pay legal fees to her divorce attorney. The CFB launched a formal investigation into the complaint in August.  

In addition to the complaints being investigated by the CFB, Omar has also been cited for campaign finance violations related to late filings of campaign finance reports and a statement of economic interest. Drazkowski reports Omar has been fined more than $2,000 for those violations.

Omar has tried to dismiss the violations and complaints against her. During a Minnesota Public Radio debate last month, Omar slammed Drazkowski as an “overzealous” legislator and labeled the findings as an effort to “smear and discredit my candidacy.”

“The truth is, I have never been really been cited for any campaign finance violation,” Omar said.

At the time, the CFB already had one open investigation into Omar’s campaign committee.

Drazkowski says the pattern of violations and complaints makes Omar a “serial violator of our laws.”

“Representative Omar is a serial violator of our laws,” Drazkowski said. “She not only has failed to offer any explanation for her ignorance of our laws but had the audacity to tell her constituents she has not been cited for any campaign finance violation. Well, the Campaign Finance Board now has two open investigations against her and its long past time for Omar to give the public some real answers as to why she’s tap-dancing around our laws and using campaign dollars for personal gain.”

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