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Senate committee hears ethics complaint against DFL Sen. Omar Fateh for alleged "quid pro quo"

DFL Sen. Omar Fateh Facing Ethics Complaints
DFL Sen. Omar Fateh Facing Ethics Complaints 02:10

ST. PAUL, Minn.  -- A Minnesota Senate committee convened Wednesday to hear an ethics complaint against DFL Sen. Omar Fateh, alleging the Minneapolis lawmaker violated Senate rules by failing to disclose a conflict of interest when authoring legislation to send state funds to a local media outlet.

Six Senate Republicans filed the complaint, asking a special group of lawmakers charged with reviewing these accusations to open an ethics investigation. They want a probe into whether Fateh engaged in a "quid pro quo" when Somali TV, which has a YouTube channel with more 170,000 subscribers, ran a campaign ad encouraging people to vote for him and then after his election, the first-term lawmaker authored a bill that would have appropriated grants totaling $500,000 for the organization.

"The allegations brought before the subcommittee today are fundamentally based in rumor," said Kristin Hendrick, an attorney representing Fateh.

Fateh's original 2020 year-end campaign finance report did not have any record of advertising expenditures for Somali TV, but Hendrick said he paid $1,000 total for the ads.

She presented a sworn statement from Siyad Salah, president of the organization, in which Salah also said Fateh paid for the campaign advertisement and that Salah forgot to include a disclaimer required by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board detailing who is responsible for campaign material. Salah previously told the Minnesota Reformer that it does not endorse candidates but it allows candidates to run political ads free of charge.

Hendrick also displayed screenshots of to $500 payments to Somali TV on Cash App, a mobile payment service, for the video in June and July 2020. Fateh submitted an amendment to his campaign finance report on Tuesday reflecting the payment.

Hendrick said Fateh made a mistake sending a payment to Somali TV from his personal Cash App account, not his campaign account. Somali TV is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is prohibited from "directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in," any political campaign activity, according to the IRS.

Members of the committee questioned the proof of payment and argued that it was Fateh and his responsibility — not Somali TV — to include a disclaimer in the campaign advertisement.

"There is no proof Sen. Fateh made that payment. There is nothing on the receipt that indicates as much," said Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch.

The committee took no action Wednesday and will have another hearing next week.

There is a second complaint against Fateh alleging he did not disclose to the Senate his close relationship to Muse Mohamud Mohamed, who was convicted in May of lying to a federal grand jury about delivering absentee ballots of three voters during an August 2020 primary election.

Muse Mohamed told the grand jury he got the ballots from the voters themselves, but they testified they did not ask anyone to deliver ballots on their behalf, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Mohamed is Fateh's brother-in-law and former campaign volunteer, according to the Minnesota Reformer, which first reported the story.

The committee did not take up that complaint Wednesday and Fateh's attorney only answered questions regarding the first complaint.

The committee is set to meet again next Wednesday and can decide to dismiss complaints as lacking probable cause, defer action or start an investigation. The last time the Senate committee heard an ethics complaint was in 2015, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

The proceedings of the House and Senate ethics committees are a separate process from any criminal investigation and are internal matters related to the legislature.

Senate DFL leaders released this statement about the ethics complaints: "The Senate DFL Caucus welcomes scrutiny when credible information presents itself, even if or when it involves one of our members. We have confidence that our Senate colleagues on the Ethics Committee will conduct a fair, bipartisan inquiry."

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