Who's Afraid of Ilhan Omar?

Congresswoman's refusal to answer questions about a big book advance that may violate House rules is just the latest media stonewall

Ilhan Omar
(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Rep Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) new memoir, This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey From Refugee to Congresswoman is out next week. Among the questions it leaves unanswered is whether Omar complied with House rules governing the big advance she reportedly received on the book.

House rules prohibit "the receipt of any advance payment on copyright royalties" unless the contract has been approved by the House Ethics Committee, as the Washington Free Beacon reported in December. At the time, neither Omar nor her publisher responded to repeated requests for comment about when, exactly, Omar signed her book contract and received the advance, which Forbes put at between $100,000 and $250,000.

Omar may have received the royalty payment before she was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2019, but her 2018 financial disclosure listed no book advance. We would like to see her 2019 disclosure, but Omar has filed for a 90-day extension.

Ninety days takes Omar just past the contested Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary that she faces back home in Minnesota this August—by two days, to be exact. We'll have to check back then.

In the meantime, we will wait, almost certainly in vain, for the armies of investigative reporters attuned to the release of Republican financial disclosures to find the time and care to ask these straightforward questions. It's not hard to predict how the congresswoman would respond given that accusations of bigotry have become her standard defense against what most might call public accountability.

Take the minor scrutiny her infamously mixed-up marriages have received from the news media. When the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board released a report on its year-long investigation of Omar last June, it revealed tax returns illegally filed with her husband, to whom she was not legally married, while she was legally married to another man.

The board's findings, which covered Omar's 2016 race for a state legislative seat, also included several penny-ante campaign finance infractions representative of the congresswoman's carefree approach to American laws.

When her hometown paper made inquiries about her marital arrangements and asked to speak to her husband and other relatives, her spokesman called the questions "conspiracy theories," accusing the paper of insinuating that Omar "is somehow illegitimate or not fully American." In fact, her flack continued, Omar had "shared more than most public officials ever do about the details of her personal life."

That sort of gaslighting has become a standard response when Omar faces scrutiny. Most recently, the congresswoman disputed on-the-record accusations—from a local Imam—that she was improperly routing contributions for a local charity meals program to her campaign account. That one was a "'scary, lying immigrant' smear."

Omar's approach to public relations has served her well, but her approach to accounting has already led to one rebuke from regulators. Surely her constituents deserve to know—before they vote—if she's done it again.

Published under: Ilhan Omar