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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

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 25208

Reported Deaths: 1060
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin8514616
Ramsey3075128
Stearns203013
Nobles15445
Anoka142970
Dakota134957
Washington64532
Olmsted63410
Kandiyohi4971
Rice4622
Scott4362
Clay42728
Mower3452
Wright3202
Todd3190
Sherburne2462
Carver2182
Benton1783
Steele1600
Blue Earth1420
Martin1325
Freeborn1250
St. Louis11814
Pine890
Unassigned8810
Nicollet8810
Winona8015
Cottonwood760
Watonwan750
Carlton750
Crow Wing712
Otter Tail700
Goodhue683
Chisago621
Polk612
Lyon570
Itasca5510
Dodge530
Chippewa511
Morrison470
Meeker450
Douglas440
Le Sueur441
Becker400
Murray390
Jackson390
McLeod370
Isanti350
Waseca260
Rock220
Swift190
Mille Lacs191
Pennington190
Faribault190
Wabasha180
Fillmore171
Sibley160
Brown162
Beltrami150
Cass142
Norman130
Marshall120
Pipestone120
Kanabec111
Wilkin113
Wadena100
Koochiching90
Pope90
Aitkin80
Mahnomen61
Yellow Medicine60
Big Stone60
Lincoln50
Redwood50
Renville50
Red Lake40
Grant40
Lac qui Parle30
Clearwater30
Traverse30
Houston20
Hubbard20
Roseau20
Lake10
Kittson10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 19669

Reported Deaths: 555
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4236133
Woodbury276136
Black Hawk174745
Linn95379
Dallas91623
Marshall89616
Buena Vista8100
Johnson6149
Wapello59712
Muscatine55741
Crawford5282
Tama40327
Scott36110
Dubuque34619
Louisa34511
Sioux2830
Pottawattamie2698
Jasper26017
Washington1898
Wright1780
Warren1350
Plymouth1332
Allamakee1204
Story1161
Mahaska9510
Poweshiek908
Henry711
Bremer696
Des Moines651
Boone650
Clinton641
Taylor560
Clarke560
Guthrie513
Cedar481
Benton431
Hamilton430
Webster421
Monroe385
Shelby370
Jones360
Clayton343
Osceola340
Buchanan330
Iowa330
Marion320
Cherokee310
Jefferson300
Cerro Gordo291
Madison292
Lee270
Fayette270
Monona250
Winneshiek240
Lyon240
Davis230
Harrison230
Dickinson210
Sac200
Grundy200
Mills190
Floyd191
Humboldt181
Clay170
Delaware171
Hardin170
Butler171
Lucas170
Emmet160
Hancock160
Appanoose143
Ida140
Page140
Franklin140
Keokuk140
Pocahontas130
Greene130
Howard120
Cass120
Audubon121
Jackson120
Carroll110
Winnebago110
Chickasaw100
Kossuth100
Adair90
Van Buren90
Union90
Montgomery80
Adams70
Palo Alto70
Fremont40
Ringgold40
Mitchell40
Worth30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur10
Unassigned10
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