Where does Campaign Money Go?

(Left to Right) House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN House)

Gifts, Hawaiian furniture, and an iPad were just some items purchased during the election cycle.  

St. Paul, MN — Even though the 2016 election has been over for a couple of months, Candidates filed their end of year reports for 2016 by Monday’s January 31, 2017, deadline.

Combing through expenditures of a few politicians have turned up interesting results.

It is important to note, most of the expenditures detailed are not considered illegal expenditures. 

A Guide to non-campaign disbursement classifications given to Alpha News by Kyle Fisher, a legal analyst at the Campaign Finance Office explains each legislator is well within the bounds of campaign finance law.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) had a few interesting expenditures in his year-end report.

In the month of December, Daudt spent $449.85 on “New member gifts” under “expense of caucus leader” on Christianbook.com. Daudt also spent an additional $385.02 on Amazon.com for the same reason. Daudt also purchased $778.13 worth of office furniture at Martin and MacArthur in Hawaii.

These purchases would fall under the category of “costs of serving in office – payment by a principal campaign committee of the candidate’s expenses for serving in public office, other than for personal use.” According to the guide, “the Board has recognized that this category is appropriate only for expenditures that would not have been incurred if the individual was not specifically a legislator.”

Senator Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) spent $280.00 in March on a membership fee to the Minnesota Society of CPA’s. Benson served as an Auditor and Consultant at Deloitte & Touche before running for office. In December, Benson’s campaign spent $250.00 for membership with the Metro North Chamber of Commerce.

According to the Campaign Finance Board, “Belonging to a local organization like the Rotary Club can raise the profile of the candidate to voters in the candidate’s district and generally serves as an opportunity to promote the campaign.”

The campaign of Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) bought an iPad for $1,041.68 at Best Buy on December 31, 2016 – the last day that counts in the year-end reports . Omar on two separate occasions (02/11/16 and 12/11/2016) paid her “cultural husband” Ahmed Hirsi $3,000 for campaign work. The address attributed to Hirsi is different than the address listed on Omar’s campaign filing. According to campaign finance, these are both approved expenditures. Payment for campaign work is a reasonable expenditure and Omar can purchase technology as a cost of being a legislator.

However, Omar paid Kjellberg Law Offices $2,250.00 in legal fees on November 20, 2016. According to their website, Kjellberg Law Offices deals mainly in family law, representing clients in “divorce, separation, custody including third party or stepparent, child support, domestic abuse, and harassment.”  

According to Campaign Finance, “costs of civil litigation not related to a campaign are not expenses of serving in office that may be classified as non-campaign disbursements.” Furthermore, Campaign Finance rulings state “under certain circumstances, funds from a principal campaign committee may be used to pay for legal services if the services relate to the candidate’s chances of election and the candidate does not personally benefit from the service.

As Alpha News reported, during Omar’s marriage scandal, she hired a criminal defense attorney named Jean Brandl to be her spokesperson. No campaign funds were distributed to Brandl Law in 2016. According to Fisher, Omar would have to prove the legal counsel paid for with campaign funds must be closely related to her campaign.

All candidates except for Omar received a public subsidy from the State of Minnesota to run their campaigns.