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FEC rejects campaign finance complaint against Rep. Ilhan Omar

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 1/15/2022 Hunter Woodall and Stephen Montemayor, Star Tribune
Ilhan Omar, D- Minn., attends a news conference on Federal student loan debt. with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 4, 2021. © Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS Ilhan Omar, D- Minn., attends a news conference on Federal student loan debt. with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 4, 2021.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission has tossed out a 2019 complaint against Rep. Ilhan Omar from a conservative group alleging the Minnesota Democrat illegally spent campaign funds on her now-husband's political consulting company.

"The FEC's unanimous 6-0 ruling confirms what we've said from the beginning: This was a baseless effort by a right-wing group to smear the congresswoman," Omar campaign spokesman Isi Baehr-Breen said in a text message. "We're glad people now have a better idea of the kind of tactics the right wing is willing to use to try to smear and silence Rep. Omar. Good riddance."

The complaint from the Virginia-based National Legal and Policy Center questioned whether Omar's campaign paid Tim Mynett's E Street Group for personal travel expenses. The complaint covers a period from August 2018 to September 2019, when Omar's campaign paid more than $369,000 to E Street, according to campaign finance records.

Omar announced her marriage to Mynett in March 2020, and she severed ties with his company later that year. She denied any impropriety but said she wanted to avoid a perception of conflict.

In a unanimous decision, the commission found there was no reason to believe Omar's campaign "knowingly and willfully violated" federal law or regulations by either "converting campaign funds to personal use" or "improperly reporting payee information."

The commission urged Omar's campaign to work with the FEC to update its reporting if needed.

"Once again, the FEC has shown that it's ineffective in policing corruption," said Peter Flaherty, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, said in a phone interview Friday. "We feel it was a meritorious complaint and they should have taken more appropriate action."

Omar is currently serving her second term representing Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District. She married Mynett after the two finalized divorces with previous spouses.

"We have found true happiness together. He is my light and is an incredible father to our blended family," Omar wrote in November 2020. "And while I won't comment more on our personal life than that, I can assure you that every interaction our campaign had with the folks on his team (was) allowed under federal law."

E Street Group was cofounded by Mynett and Will Hailer, both alumni of Attorney General Keith Ellison's office when Ellison represented the Fifth District. Hailer was one of the first to reach out to Omar when Ellison announced his bid for state attorney general in 2018.

In a 2020 online essay, Hailer defended his company's work for Omar, writing that her personal relationship with Mynett began "long after our work for Ilhan started" and that FEC rules allow for family members to work for campaigns so long as they provide "a bona fide service" and that payments reflect a fair market value of those services.

(Hunter Woodall is a Washington-based reporter for the Star Tribune. Stephen Montemayor covers politics and government in Minnesota. He previously reported on federal courts and law enforcement for the Star Tribune.)

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