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Omar’s marriage to political consultant draws renewed scrutiny of campaign spending

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks at a rally in Springfield, Mass., in February.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks at a rally in Springfield, Mass., in February. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s marriage to a political consultant has drawn renewed focus on her campaign’s payments to her now-husband and his firm, which are at the center of a pending complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Omar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday announced on Instagram that she had married Timothy Mynett, and the couple filed their marriage license in Washington that same day.

Following Omar’s marriage announcement, conservative critics raised concerns about payments by her campaign to E Street Group, which is run by Mynett.

“Taxpayers funded her campaign. Now they’re funding her marriage. How is this not an FEC violation?” conservative activist Charlie Kirk tweeted Thursday.

Citing an “irretrievable breakdown” in her marriage, Omar filed for divorce from her previous husband in October amid allegations that she was having an affair with Mynett, a consultant for her congressional campaign. Two months prior, Mynett’s then-wife had filed for legal separation, alleging Mynett was “romantically involved” with Omar.

Asked at the time by the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis whether she was dating anyone, she said, “No, I am not,” and declined to discuss personal matters. Mynett had denied that he was leaving his marriage for Omar or that he was in love with her.

Since 2018, Omar’s campaign paid about $586,000 to E Street Group for a range of services that included digital advertising, fundraising consulting, digital communications and design. The campaign also paid $7,000 to Mynett directly for fundraising consulting before hiring his consulting firm.

Payments to the firm in the 2019-2020 cycle for Omar’s reelection campaign comprised 40 percent of total campaign expenses, federal filings show.

Representatives for Omar’s campaign and Mynett’s firm said this week that there was nothing improper about the payments because they were made for legitimate work.

But as news of the alleged affair unfolded, the conservative nonprofit National Legal and Policy Center filed an FEC complaint in August alleging Omar’s campaign had violated a prohibition on candidates using campaign money for personal use.

Campaign funds cannot be used for personal purposes, including paying for a candidate’s rent or any personal membership fees.

Federal laws allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay family and friends, as long as the money is used for a legitimate campaign expense and paid at fair market value.

“Generally, the rationale is, as long as they’re doing real work, you can pay them as you’d pay anyone else. You can’t overpay them. It can’t be a no-show job or a low-show job. You have to actually do the work,” said Daniel Petalas, formerly the FEC’s acting general counsel and head of enforcement.

A partner at E Street Group, Will Hailer, who co-founded the firm with Mynett, said on Friday that the payments went toward legitimate campaign work. He said most of the advertising-related payments had been passed on to vendors, as is the case with most advertising work.

The firm has about 18 employees and “on any given day, eight or more people could be touching her account at some point, between design, digital ads, social media, email content creation, high-dollar fundraising, political support and many other things that we provide for the campaign, Hailer said. “Similar to what we provide for countless other clients across the country.”

Hailer said he and Mynett began working for Omar’s campaign after years of political experience in her district and in Minnesota.

Omar campaign attorney David Mitrani echoed that point in a Thursday memo, which the campaign provided to The Washington Post on Friday, saying that the firm provided bona fide campaign services at fair market value.

“There is simply nothing unusual about the services that E Street Group provides to Ilhan for Congress — and nothing inappropriate with a vendor being reimbursed for travel for bona fide services — even if that vendor is run by a candidate’s spouse,” Mitrani wrote.

In its August complaint, the National Legal and Policy Center alleged that the campaign failed to disclose that payments to the firm “must be considered personal in nature” due to the reported relationship between its partner and the candidate.

“If Ilhan for Congress reimbursed Mynett’s LLC for travel so that Rep. Omar would have the benefit of Mynett’s romantic companionship, the expenditures must be considered personal in nature,” the complaint read.

The FEC lost its voting quorum shortly after the complaint was filed, and it is unable to take any official enforcement action on the pending complaint.

“As far as the nuptials, I think this event underscores the problems we cited in our complaint,” Peter Flaherty, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, said on Friday.

“You have a member of Congress paying a close friend and now-husband the bulk of her campaign spending,” Flaherty added. “It still raises the question of whether it is to facilitate a personal relationship or whether Tim Mynett is the best possible vendor for all these possible activities.”