Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin, speaks with Sen. Omar Fateh, D-Minneapolis, right, on the Senate floor on May 4, 2022. Photo by Catherine J. Davis/ Senate Media Services
DFL Sen. Omar Fateh of Minneapolis, facing allegations that he sought state grant money for a TV station after it ran free ads for him, said he actually paid $1,000 to Somali TV for a handful of political advertisements.
Fateh, the first-term lawmaker, faces two ethics complaints filed by GOP colleagues who want to conduct an inquiry into the ads run on Somali TV — a popular YouTube channel for Minnesota’s Somali population — and whether Fateh inappropriately sought state grant money for the nonprofit. Additionally, they want to examine Fateh’s ties to his brother-in-law, who volunteered on his 2020 campaign and was recently convicted of lying to a grand jury in a ballot fraud case related to Fateh’s victory in the 2020 DFL primary, when he beat state Sen. Jeff Hayden.
The hearing is intended to determine if there is enough evidence or probable cause for a formal review of the complaints, which could drag proceedings against Fateh into the summer as he runs for re-election, including against a DFL primary opponent, Shaun Laden.
The Reformer last month reported that Somali TV, which is registered as a nonprofit and isn’t allowed to engage in political activity or make endorsements, often runs political ads for candidates free of charge, according to Somali TV President Siyad Salah.
But, Fateh, who appeared in person before the Senate ethics subcommittee, maintained they were paid advertisements and not free endorsements, despite his ads running without a disclaimer saying who paid for it. His campaign finance reports from the time also show no payment to Somali TV for the ads.
Attorney Kristin Hendrick, who represented Fateh during the hearing, said Fateh provided Somali TV the disclaimer language when he paid for the ads but the station failed to include it.
In a signed affidavit provided to the committee, Salah said he forgot to post the disclaimer.
“Even the evidence as it sits today shows this was a paid advertisement and no conflict of interest was there,” Hendrick said.
The $1,000 payment for the advertisements, made in two $500 payments June 20, 2020 and July 5, 2020, are now reflected in an amended campaign finance report filed Tuesday with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Fateh also provided a screenshot of the receipts for the payments sent via Cash App, a popular mobile payment service. The screenshots show payments to Salah.
Republicans say the screenshot is insufficient proof, demanding more detailed information about the transaction.
“None of the information they’ve provided disproves our claims,” state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch.
State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said during the hearing Fateh’s evidence persuaded her.
“He’s my colleague, I have no reason to believe that that’s not true,” she said of the amended campaign report and screenshots of the transactions.
The Senate ethics subcommittee, which last met in 2015, is a standing committee and is evenly divided between Republicans and Democratic lawmakers.
The subcommittee will continue the hearing next Wednesday after running out of time to begin hearing the second complaint regarding Fateh’s brother-in-law.
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