ST. PAUL – After learning that State Representative Ilhan Omar accepted payments from MNSCU campuses last year – a violation of Minnesota House rules – State Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) is calling on Omar to return the thousands of dollars she received.
“It’s clear to me that Representative Omar abused the power of her office and her committee assignment for personal financial gain, which is truly disappointing,” Drazkowski said. “Despite being fully aware that accepting these payments violated the rules of the Minnesota House, she not only kept the money but failed to disclose it for as long as she could to avoid an ethics hearing and an endorsement headache.”
On June 20, 2018, after her congressional endorsement and well past the filing deadline, Rep. Omar filed her legally-required Statement of Economic Interest. Only then was it learned that Omar had accepted more than a dozen honorariums, including two from MNSCU. The late filing resulted in the largest fine allowed under law.
Omar, who serves as a member of the Minnesota House Higher Education and Career Readiness Policy and Finance Committee, was paid $2,000 to serve as a keynote speaker at a Normandale Community College event on February 28, 2017. On April 19, 2017, Omar was paid $500 to serve as a keynote speaker at an Inver Hills Community College event.
Less than two weeks after the Inver Hills Community College payment was made, Omar and State Senator Greg Clausen submitted a joint letter to the House and Senate chairs of the Minnesota Higher Education Finance committees. The letter, dated May 1, 2017, requested the committee “increase investment in both the Minnesota State and the University Systems.”
Drazkowski said Omar clearly violated rules that are in place to prevent payment to a member from an organization that has business before the Legislature. According to Minnesota House Rule 9.20, Acceptance of an Honorarium by a Member: A member must not accept an honorarium for a service performed for an individual or organization that has a direct interest in the business of the House, including, but not limited to, a registered lobbyist or an organization a lobbyist represents.
Rep. Omar voted to adopt the Permanent Rules of the Minnesota House – which includes Rule 9.20 - on February 16, 2017, 12 days before her first paid MNSCU speaking engagement.
In addition, Drazkowski noted every newly-elected member attends an orientation where non-partisan House research staff explains potential conflicts of interest to incoming lawmakers, including gifts, travel and lodging, and honoraria.
Drazkowski also finds Omar’s repeated violations with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board troubling:
On May 17, 2017, Rep. Omar was fined $1,000 due to the late filing of her 24-hour notice reports.
On November 30, 2017, Rep. Omar was fined $150 due to the late filing of her campaign finance report. That 2016 report listed a non-campaign disbursement in the amount of $2,250 in legal fees to the Kjellberg Law Office, which specializes in divorce law, and is listed as her representative during her 2017 divorce case. It also noted that she paid her now current husband $3,100 for unspecified campaign services.
On June 20, 2018, Rep. Omar was fined the maximum $1,100 due to the late filing of her Statement of Economic Interest.
Drazkowski points out that by intentionally filing her reports late, Omar was able to avoid a potential House Ethics Committee hearing into her financial misdeeds because the Legislature had adjourned sine die. The late filing also prevented bad publicity or any other conflicts that could have arisen during the DFL endorsement to replace outgoing Congressman Keith Ellison.
“Representative Omar’s willingness to accept money from institutions that are dependent on her committee and her vote for their funding is the textbook definition of unethical,” Drazkowski said. “Because of her decision to withhold disclosing this information until after the Legislature adjourned sine die, we are unable to formally file ethics charges against her.”
Drazkowski said Omar must return the MNSCU payments, and he said that she may not use campaign funds to make the repayment.
“If the ethics committee were to find Representative Omar in violation of House Rule 9.20, and I have no doubt that it would, the end result would be a demand for her to return the payments,” Drazkowski said. “With that in mind, Representative Omar needs to return these payments to the MNSCU campuses immediately.”
Drazkowski said he has also submitted a data practice request to MNSCU to learn more about the specifics of Representative Omar’s campus speaking events.