Minnesota congresswoman accused of tax, campaign finance violations

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

State officials say she misused funds and filed joint tax returns before being legally married.

Posted: Jun 11, 2019 1:21 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota campaign finance officials said last week that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar misused campaign funds in violation of state rules. They also revealed that she had filed joint tax returns with her husband years before they were legally married and at a time when she was married to another man.

The revelation put the freshman representative under more scrutiny from critics who have taken issue with her marital past. One tax expert says if the issue has been corrected she's unlikely to face any criminal consequences.

Some questions and answers about the tax issue:

Q: What did Omar do wrong?

A: The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board said Thursday that Omar and her husband, Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi, filed joint tax returns for 2014 and 2015 — before they were actually married and while Omar was legally wed to another man. While some states allow for joint filing for "common law" marriages, Minnesota does not, and filing joint tax returns with someone who is not your legal spouse is against both federal and state law.

Q: How did this become public?

A: Last year, a Republican state representative accused Omar of misusing campaign funds, alleging among other things that she used $2,250 in campaign money to pay a lawyer for her divorce proceedings. The campaign finance board investigated and found she didn't use the funds to pay for a divorce lawyer as alleged, but other irregularities were found. The board's final report said "there was an issue with her tax returns that needed to be corrected" and that some campaign funds went to an accounting firm.

State officials ruled last week that Omar must repay her campaign committee nearly $3,500, including $1,500 for payments made to the accounting firm for services related to joint tax returns for 2014 and 2015. Omar must also pay a $500 penalty to the state.

Q: What has Omar said about this?

A: Very little. In response to questions from The Associated Press, her campaign sent an emailed statement saying, "All of Rep. Omar's tax filings are fully compliant with all applicable tax law." The campaign did not make Omar available for an interview or answer specific questions from the AP. In response to the overall campaign finance investigation, she said in a statement last week that she will comply with the state board findings calling for her to repay money and pay a penalty.

Q: Hasn't Omar faced criticism on other issues?

A: During her brief time in Congress, Omar has been outspoken on issues such as U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East. As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress she has faced heightened scrutiny and has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. In response to some of her comments, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning hate speech against all groups. She has denied her comments were anti-Semitic and says she has come under political attack because she is a Muslim and woman of color.

She has also been dogged by conservatives who have raised questions about her past. She came to the United States as a refugee from war-torn Somalia. In 2016, as Omar was running for a seat in the Minnesota House, conservative bloggers alleged she was married to two men at the same time. Marriage records show that's not the case.

According to marriage records, Omar applied for a license in 2002 to marry her current husband, Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi, who Omar says went by Ahmed Abdisalan Aden at the time. A marriage certificate wasn't issued and Omar has said they didn't pursue a civil marriage but instead married in their Muslim faith tradition. Omar and Hirsi had two children, but ended their relationship in 2008.

Omar then married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, whom she said is a British citizen, in 2009, according to a marriage certificate. Omar said that relationship ended in 2011 and the two divorced in their faith tradition, but Omar didn't take legal action to divorce him until 2017. Divorce records say Omar and Hirsi reunited and had a third child together in June 2012. Omar legally married Hirsi in early 2018, a month after her divorce from Elmi was finalized.

Q: Did Omar gain something by filing jointly?

A: It's hard to say. In most situations, filing jointly may reduce taxes for married couples. But Eric Johnson, an attorney who practices tax law in St. Paul, Minnesota, said that's not always the case and filing jointly might actually increase a tax bill for some.

Omar has so far kept her tax returns private. While she has called for President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, her campaign did not acknowledge the AP's request to release hers. Her campaign also did not answer a question about whether there might be issues with other tax returns prior to Omar's marriage to Hirsi in 2018.

Q: Is Omar now in trouble with the IRS?

A: That's not clear. Jeff Sigurdson, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, said that while the board has authority to refer matters to a county attorney if it discovers an issue, there were no referrals made in this case. Sigurdson said the board did not look into the legality of the joint tax returns, but only "whether it was appropriate to use committee funds to get a copy of them." Sigurdson said the board never saw the returns in question.

The IRS says federal privacy law prohibits it from commenting.

Johnson, the tax attorney, said if taxpayers incorrectly file tax returns as "married filing jointly" where there is no legal marriage, it is typically not a criminal matter unless taxpayers have a strong intent to cheat on their taxes, or unless they directly provide false factual information.

"If the IRS discovers the error, they send the resulting tax bill to the taxpayers," Johnson said. "If the taxpayers discover the error ... amend their returns and pay the tax, there is typically no further consequence."

Q: Will the public ever know what happened?

A: Probably not, unless Omar decides to talk about it. Taxpayer information is protected under federal law. Johnson said the IRS can't disclose the status of anyone's tax issues or directly release information about Omar's tax situation.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 86722

Reported Deaths: 1994
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25264915
Ramsey10267314
Dakota6942124
Anoka5531131
Stearns362923
Washington345955
Scott232532
Olmsted223726
Nobles191416
Blue Earth15406
Wright14777
Carver13037
Rice12798
Mower12534
St. Louis123329
Clay119940
Sherburne105013
Kandiyohi9082
Winona72718
Lyon6244
Steele5062
Freeborn4903
Nicollet48716
Watonwan4844
Benton4793
Todd4722
Le Sueur4403
McLeod4332
Chisago4151
Waseca4118
Crow Wing40218
Otter Tail3674
Beltrami3624
Goodhue3179
Martin2809
Polk2574
Itasca25513
Becker2352
Carlton2261
Isanti2210
Douglas2191
Cottonwood2130
Pipestone2059
Pine1980
Morrison1841
Chippewa1821
Dodge1820
Sibley1663
Wabasha1640
Brown1582
Unassigned15752
Meeker1552
Murray1492
Yellow Medicine1421
Rock1390
Mille Lacs1333
Faribault1290
Cass1203
Jackson1201
Renville1176
Pennington1071
Houston1050
Roseau1050
Swift991
Fillmore980
Koochiching983
Kanabec958
Lincoln930
Redwood910
Stevens911
Pope810
Aitkin691
Hubbard650
Big Stone640
Wadena610
Grant574
Wilkin553
Norman510
Lake480
Marshall481
Mahnomen441
Red Lake370
Lac qui Parle360
Traverse290
Clearwater240
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson130
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76924

Reported Deaths: 1241
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk14988255
Johnson490727
Woodbury475459
Black Hawk425184
Linn3640102
Story321417
Dallas263238
Scott261427
Dubuque251840
Buena Vista191812
Pottawattamie189437
Marshall175234
Sioux12243
Wapello122057
Webster117914
Muscatine105152
Clinton102418
Cerro Gordo97721
Plymouth97520
Crawford9444
Warren9186
Jasper72032
Des Moines7137
Marion6874
Tama67830
Carroll6085
Lee5727
Wright5491
Henry5104
Dickinson4666
Bremer4497
Boone4346
Washington41411
Louisa41314
Franklin33017
Hamilton3123
Mahaska30919
Delaware3053
Jackson2803
Floyd2793
Winneshiek2745
Clay2663
Hardin2661
Benton2611
Clarke2533
Butler2512
Winnebago24711
Emmet24210
Shelby2381
Allamakee2355
Jones2313
Poweshiek2308
Clayton2243
Lyon2233
Buchanan2181
Cedar2101
Guthrie2095
Chickasaw1970
Kossuth1950
Grundy1932
Madison1922
Howard1764
Sac1760
Fayette1751
Iowa1741
Cherokee1732
Mitchell1720
Hancock1702
Humboldt1682
Harrison1642
Calhoun1612
Mills1541
Pocahontas1492
Palo Alto1480
Monroe1409
Page1400
Jefferson1291
Lucas1296
Cass1262
Monona1251
Taylor1171
Appanoose1163
Osceola1130
Union1123
Davis1104
Van Buren1081
Worth990
Keokuk841
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Ida770
Wayne762
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