Nepotism, fraud, or simply business as usual? The difference might simply be in scale rather than principle. Ilhan Omar’s campaign has paid her new husband, political consultant Tim Mynett, nearly a million dollars in fees over the last two years, and nearly $200K since their marriage in March. If that sounds like a fine way to siphon off campaign contributions into the family bank account, that’s because it is.
However, it’s not illegal — and might not even violate any formal ethics rules, either:
Rep. Ilhan Omar has continued quietly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to her new husband’s consulting film, including a $189,000 windfall in March — just weeks after they announced they had tied the knot, campaign data shows.
The payments between the Minneapolis Democratic congresswoman and Tim Mynett prompted at least one ethics complaint in 2019 after The Post first revealed allegations — made by Mynett’s then-wife in her divorce filing — that Omar was having an affair with the member of her political consulting team, who was at the time married to another woman. Omar was married to her second husband at the time.
But that doesn’t appear to have stopped the now-married couple, with Mynett’s E Street Group collecting $292,814.99 from his wife’s campaign this year for digital advertising, fundraising consulting and research services, according to the Federal Election Commission filings.
In total, Mynett has received a whopping $878,930.65 from Omar’s campaign since he began working for her in 2018, raising eyebrows among watchdogs and political law experts who say the practice is rife with cronyism.
This isn’t the first time that the issue has come up. The Star Tribune reported on it in April, when the latest payment got disclosed. It also noted that it’s not unusual for family members to draw salaries on campaigns or to work as consultants:
The Minnesota Democrat’s campaign paid E Street Group, a firm founded by her husband, Tim Mynett, $292,000 for advertising, fundraising, travel and other services between January and March of this year, according to a federal campaign finance report filed Wednesday.
The law doesn’t prohibit hiring a spouse for a federal campaign and it’s not unheard of for candidates and members of Congress to employ and pay relatives through their committees. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., for example, has hired his son as campaign treasurer. …
Omar defended the business relationship in a series of tweets last month, saying the campaign pays fair market value for the firm’s services. She first hired the group, which previously worked for Attorney General Keith Ellison, during her 2018 run for Congress.
“Fair market value”? For running as an incumbent in the nation’s wackiest-progressive district? It’s tough to imagine that Omar would need to pay her husband nearly twice what she earns in a year as a member of Congress for work done in a single quarter. Omar is running against a significant primary challenge, and she’s certainly got the cash; even before this quarter’s filings, Omar’s campaign raised $3.389 million in this cycle as of 2020’s Q1 filing, which makes Mynett’s cut about a third of the total. It does come to nearly half of all disbursements, which seems … excessive.
However, unless someone can show that Mynett has padded his bills for the purpose of siphoning off campaign funds for personal use, there isn’t a legal case here. There doesn’t even seem to be an ethics case here, at least not one for a formal House investigation, although former White House ethics lawyer-turned-Democratic candidate Richard Painter thinks it stinks:
The arrangement is possible because of a 1960s federal anti-nepotism statute that prohibits members of Congress from hiring relatives for government jobs but does not block family members from doing campaign work, a former chief ethics lawyer from the administration of former President George W. Bush told The New York Post.
“It should not be allowed,” attorney Richard Painter said. “I think it’s a horrible idea to allow it, given the amount of money that goes into these campaigns from special interests.”
The fair-market value claim could be reviewed by the FEC and referred back to the House, but don’t bet on it. For one thing, they’ve already reviewed it, and Omar claims that the FEC is fine with the arrangement:
My relationship with Tim began long after this work started.
We consulted with a top FEC campaign attorney to ensure there were no possible legal issues with our relationship. We were told this is not uncommon and that no, there weren’t.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 17, 2020
In the end, the only people to whom Omar will have to answer for this arrangement are her contributors and the voters in MN-05. House members won’t — and likely can’t — penalize Omar for an arrangement many of them use themselves to double-dip or get taxpayer money to family members. The contributions keep rolling in, however, and if this kind of issue had any import among MN-05 voters, they wouldn’t have elected Omar in the first place.
Therefore, the answer to my first question is … all of the above. But unfortunately, it doesn’t matter.