Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, listens with his lawyer as Somali TV President Siyad Salah testifies before a Minnesota ethics subcommittee on July 27, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
A Minnesota Senate ethics committee on Wednesday upheld part of a complaint against Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, for failing to report paying $1,000 to Somali TV for two campaign ads.
The committee dismissed the other part of the complaint filed by a group of Republican lawmakers that alleged Fateh inappropriately sought $500,000 in funding for Somali TV in a bonding bill months after the YouTube channel ran his ads. That complaint was based on a May Reformer report.
Senate President Dave Osmek, R-Mound, who chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct, said there was no evidence of a quid pro quo.
“Bonding requests are a dime a dozen,” Osmek said after the committee adjourned. “There was no tangible evidence that you could show there was a quid pro quo or payback on the bonding request.”
Fateh declined to comment after the committee voted, exiting through a side door with his lawyer.
The committee will forward its decision to the Senate Rules Committee and recommend that Fateh receive additional training on campaign finance rules.
Osmek said he isn’t sure what the training will accomplish, given Fateh previously worked as a campaign finance analyst for the Federal Elections Commission, but it was the toughest sanction he could get on the four-member, bipartisan committee.
The most serious issue, Osmek said, was that Fateh ran his campaign out of a south Minneapolis adult day care center for free without reporting it as an in-kind donation.
The committee uncovered that during its investigation, but it wasn’t included in the original complaints and thus outside its purview. But Osmek said he will file a complaint with the Campaign Finance Board on his Senate letterhead.
“This is a big, big problem,” Osmek said.
The committee also looked into Fateh’s ties to a federal voter fraud case in which his brother-in-law, Muse Mohamud Mohamed, was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury. The grand jury was empaneled as part of a wider federal investigation into misuse of the absentee ballot “agent delivery” process, which is when voters with health problems or disabilities can have someone deliver their ballot to an election office.
Mohamed volunteered on Fateh’s 2020 campaign, in which Fateh scored an upset victory over then Sen. Jeff Hayden in the DFL primary by running as a democratic-socialist and promising to upend business-as-usual at the state Capitol.
Mohamed delivered three absentee ballots in the 2020 primary on behalf of voters who told federal prosecutors that they did not know him and did not ask him to turn in their ballots.
The ethics committee voted to dismiss the complaint that Fateh committed any ethics violations, because they found no evidence that he knew about the absentee ballots.
The committee made its determination after hearing testimony from Somali TV president Siyad Salah and Fateh’s former legislative aide, Dawson Kimyon, both of whom failed to appear before the committee earlier this month.
Salah, speaking through an interpreter and joined by an attorney, said Somali TV often runs videos on behalf of politicians for free when it’s in the public interest. They also charge politicians to produce and post campaign ads.
He said they have aired a number of videos with Fateh for free for public information purposes and charged him $1,000 for two videos that ran in 2020. They negotiated the payments verbally and Salah never sent an invoice, saying “the process was done in a hurry.”
Salah previously told the Reformer that he didn’t charge Fateh for any videos, which Fateh disputed with receipts on CashApp. Asked about the discrepancy, Salah said he thought the Reformer reporter was asking about different videos for which he didn’t charge Fateh.
Salah’s testimony tracked with an affidavit he previously submitted to the committee, which was drafted in part by an attorney that represented Fateh although Salah said he couldn’t remember the lawyer’s name.
Osmek said there is nothing illegal or unethical about Salah getting legal help from an attorney that worked with Fateh because ultimately Salah signed his name to the statement.
“If you didn’t agree with it, then you don’t sign the affidavit,” Osmek said. “You can take advice from any lawyer you want.”
Fateh’s former campaign manager and legislative aide, Dawson Kimyon, declined to answer most questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Kimyon, saying he was following the advice of his attorney, did not answer questions about what his duties were as campaign manager, if he discussed absentee ballots with Fateh or where the campaign headquarters were.
After Mohamed’s conviction, DFL leadership put Kimyon on leave; he later resigned.
Kimyon’s lack of responses frustrated some members of the committee, who questioned how answering some of their questions could incriminate him.
“I think if I ask the question, ‘What color is the sky right now?’ I’d get the Fifth Amendment, too,” Osmek said during questioning.
Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, defended Kimyon’s right to invoke the Fifth Amendment because it also serves to protect people when they don’t know what impact their statements will have on other investigations.
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