Ilhan Omar's campaign finance/tax issues just shifted gears

Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has landed in a bit of hot water with both the FEC and the IRS following an investigation by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. A review of Omar’s campaign committee finances revealed multiple violations of campaign finance laws as well as irregularities in her tax returns. As we go through the details, these look like rookie mistakes for someone who has managed two different campaigns (though at the state and municipal level) and run for a state House seat prior to her congressional bid. Fox News has the details.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., repeatedly violated state rules when she used campaign funds to pay for personal out-of-state travel as well as help on her tax returns and must reimburse her former campaign committee nearly $3,500, Minnesota campaign finance officials ruled Thursday.

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board said the first-term congresswoman also must pay the state a $500 civil penalty for using campaign money to travel to Florida, where she accepted an honorarium.

“Rep. Omar must personally reimburse the Omar committee $3,469.23,” the report concludes. “This reimbursement payment is the total amount of campaign funds that were used for purposes not permitted by statute in 2016 and 2017. Rep. Omar must provide documentation within 30 days from the date of this order showing the deposit of the reimbursement into the Omar committee’s account.”

In addition to the out of state travel charged to her campaign committee, the investigation revealed that Omar used campaign funds to pay for the services of an attorney who arranged for her divorce from one of her husbands. That investigation appears to have opened up another line of inquiry, revealing that she filed jointly with her current husband for several years prior to marrying him. That’s yet another issue that will have to be cleared up with the tax man.

If all of these issues are simply cases of an inexperienced candidate not being familiar with FEC regulations, she probably doesn’t have too much to worry about. She’ll have to reimburse her own campaign committee a few thousand dollars, pay a small fine and that will likely be the end of it. It could at least serve as an important lesson for other young people considering a run for office, however.

As I learned when handling a couple of congressional campaigns, the very first person you hire, even before a campaign manager, comms person or body man, is the person who is going to handle the money. You need somebody to verify all the donations, vet the donors, keep track of every penny that goes in or out and make sure that all expenditures are legitimate. A failure to do so is the easiest way to trip up your campaign and your opponents will be reviewing all of your FEC filings to try to catch you in an error.

But it would be curious indeed if this was simply a series of innocent mistakes. As I mentioned above, this wasn’t Omar’s first trip to the rodeo. She’s worked as a campaign manager for two different people and run for a state legislative office before taking a seat in Congress. I suppose anything is possible, but after that many trips to the well, you’d imagine that she would have known about the pitfalls of FEC rules and taken steps to avoid such blunders.

The tax filing question is similarly confusing. She was apparently married to Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in 2009, but the couple separated in 2011. They didn’t formally divorce until 2017, after which she married Ahmed Hirsi. But she and Hirsi filed joint income taxes returns for two years before they were married. Again, you’d think someone would know that was illegal, but who’s to say? I would imagine Omar isn’t facing any jail time for that infraction either and it will likely be able to be cleaned up with a fine or something.

As scandals go, this one seems to be of the low-temperature variety. What we’re observing here appears to be more a case of sloppiness than nefarious behavior.