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Minnesota ethics committee probes complaint that DFL lawmaker broke conflict of interest rules

The Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct met Wednesday to take up complaints about Minneapolis Sen. Omar Fateh. The complaints were brought forth by seven GOP senators.

Sen. Omar Fateh - ethics
State Sen. Omar Fateh, left, speaks to the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, as they weigh a complaint against him. To his right are his lawyer Kristin Hendrick (center) and Sen. Mark Koran (right).
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Republican senators on Wednesday, June 8, presented their case against a Democratic-Farmer-Labor colleague alleging that he'd accepted a disallowed campaign endorsement and later pushed to get state funding for the organization that offered it.

A group of seven GOP state senators came before the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct to make their case that Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, violated Senate rules by failing to disclose a tie to Somali TV Minnesota after the group aired a campaign ad for him in 2020. They also alleged that Fateh broke with conflict of interest disclosure rules when he carried a $500,000 bill to boost state funding to Somali TV after he was elected.

During the two-hour hearing, Fateh and his lawyer presented a digital receipt showing that Fateh paid the station to run a campaign advertisement, not an endorsement, and put forward a sworn affidavit from Somali TV Minnesota President Siyah Salah affirming that Fateh paid to run the ad on the Somali news network. Fateh and his attorney said complaints against him were based on rumors that were printed in news stories and they could be disputed with additional information.

"We're here today to provide that necessary fact to the subcommittee, facts that show that the evidence before the subcommittee today does not rise to the level to warrant further investigation," Kristin Hendrick, a lawyer representing Fateh told the panel. "Based on the facts that are before the committee today, there is no indication of any conflict of interest here. This was a paid advertisement, there's no indication of a connection between Sen. Fateh and Somali TV."

Sen. Mark Koran, R- North Branch, and six other GOP senators brought a pair of complaints before the committee. And on Wednesday, Koran argued that the panel hadn't seen enough credible information about the payment to Somali TV Minnesota and the lack of clarity should be grounds enough for the committee to investigate the allegation of Fateh's failure to disclose a conflict of interest.

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"With the conflicting statements, I think it's clear proof that probable cause has been proved to move forward and it must be investigated," Koran said.

Members of the committee raised questions about how the campaign advertisement was paid for and why Fateh at the time didn't file campaign finance disclosure statements that accurately addressed it. They asked that Fateh bring additional documentation in an upcoming meeting to address their questions.

The Senate panel didn't immediately determine on Wednesday whether it would move forward with the investigation. Members also planned to reconvene next week to take up additional evidence.

“I think we have a lot to digest in terms of where to go with complaint No. 1,” Subcommittee Chair Dave Osmek, R-Mound, said at the close of the meeting. “I think we should chew on that one and determine what are our next steps.”

They were also set to weigh another complaint alleging that Fateh failed to adequately address the actions of a former campaign volunteer and Senate staff member who was found guilty of lying to a grand jury about submitting absentee ballots without voters' consent.

Wednesday's meeting marked the first time that the subcommittee came together in seven years. Senators can bring complaints of their peers before the committee and members decide whether to move forward with an investigation and possible penalties. The subcommittee has broad authority and can subpoena witnesses and to request documents as part of its investigations.

Two DFL senators and two Republican senators comprise the committee. The members could meet as many times as they view necessary to consider and address the complaints.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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