In 2018 I co-founded E Street Group LLC, a business focused on comprehensive political support to progressive candidates and causes across the country. My business partner since we launched has been Tim Mynett, a fundraising expert who has spent two decades raising millions of dollars and building political power for progressive candidates and causes across the country. One of our first clients when we launched was Ilhan for Congress. This is the story of partnership between our company and their campaign.
Within five minutes after receiving the call from Keith Ellison that he was running for Attorney General in Minnesota and thus stepping down from Congress and eventually the DNC, I had texted, called and DMed Ilhan Omar asking her if she was going to run.
I’d had the pleasure of organizing alongside Ilhan for more than a decade. I saw as early as 2011 when I was the Campaign Manager for Keith Ellison how dedicated she was to improving the lives of our neighbors in Minneapolis and its surrounding communities.
Under the leadership of Keith Ellison (who chose to undertake the hard work that few incumbent members of Congress do), MN’s 5th District turned itself into an organizing powerhouse that delivered statewide after statewide wins for Democrats. If you look at congressional electoral results over the past two decades, Democrats that perform on the same level of net marginal victory as Keith Ellison and Ilhan Omar actually have some of the lowest voter turnout and engagement.
In my opinion, this problem of low voter turnout is often fueled by elected officials who either don’t want to have to run spirited and engaged political campaigns or by those who no longer accurately reflect the voice of their constituents in a way in which not showing up is beneficial to drive down awareness. This is a problem that both parties have and something that is really unique about the type of leaders Keith Ellison and Ilhan Omar are.
Over the last several election cycles, the constituents of the 5th Congressional District have had an incredible organizer in Keith Ellison pushing turnout and ensuring voters come to the polls.
In 2018, Ilhan carried on that tradition with the highest-performing Democratic turnout in the state of Minnesota. Across the country, Ilhan outperformed 428 Congressional members (out of 435) with the 7th-highest raw vote count. She was also the top national vote receiver for non-incumbents.
This was no doubt possible not only because of the amazing work of so many partners and organizers but also due to same-day voter registration, early voting and a state that constantly prioritizes the enfranchisement of voters.
Ilhan’s fundraising in 2018 allowed her to not only run a robust field effort that helped ensure voter turnout in high numbers for statewide races but allowed her to donate to 19 Red to Blue DCCC candidates who won their tough races. In fact, Ilhan was the largest donor to DCCC candidates among her congressional freshman class.
In 2018, Ilhan had thousands of individuals who donated to our historic campaign — and she led all the Democrats elected to Congress from Minnesota in 2018 in her percentage of grassroots donations (those under $200).
Because of what is at stake in 2020 there is no doubt in my mind that political opponents of Ilhan will stop at nothing to attack her for the legal and professional relationship between E Street Group LLC and Ilhan for Congress.
I would even humbly say that the relationship is necessary — together we have fueled huge fundraising, driven turnout and will hopefully be the reason that Trump not only loses Minnesota but we return Democrats to Congress and the state legislature in Minnesota and across the country.
But I think it is important to dive into two things: (1) my business partner, Tim Mynett, and the way he is being portrayed and (2) some of the fundraising and expenditures by Ilhan for Congress.
First — Tim Mynett. Tim and I met almost a decade ago while both working for Keith Ellison. I served as Keith Ellison’s campaign manager in the Fifth Congressional District. At the time, Tim was almost a decade into a fundraising career. He was working at a firm and had multiple clients. By this point I had worked with numerous consultants and Tim was the best I had worked with. He was a rockstar. He had great relationships with national progressive donors, donors of Islamic faith and donors who cared about Minnesota. He produced results for Keith Ellison that no other fundraiser could because of his attention to detail, his passion and his deep roots in these communities.
His personal relationship with the Congresswoman began long after our work for Ilhan started. And while their personal decision to enter into marriage is really one ones business but theirs, I couldn’t be happier that two of the most talented, kindest people I know found love and happiness.
This has had no bearing on our work. Like other campaign staff, family members can complete work for a campaign as long as they are providing a bona fide service (which we are) and the payments reflect the fair market value of those services (which they do). This rule is stated clearly on the FEC website and available for anyone to read.
Enough about Tim — let’s look at those reports.
The FEC actually makes reporters’ jobs pretty easy. You can easily pull all the fundraising data for congressional members and candidates.
Ending the 2018 campaign cycle, Ilhan had $54,829.27 in “cash on hand.” Since 1/1/2019 Ilhan has raised $3,388,551.38. She has spent $1,919,964.32.
It’s worth noting, as a freshman Member of Congress, she is already one of the most prolific fundraisers in the country. Some interesting facts about the campaign’s fundraising and budget compared to others.
● Just 30 members of Congress have raised more than Ilhan. The majority of those campaigns have spent more than Ilhan. At least 9 campaigns who have raised less than Ilhan have spent more than her.
● 97.7% of her contributions come from individuals (Ilhan does take financial support from labor unions and progressive organizations), giving her the-fifth highest rate of individual gifts out of all members of Congress (and certainly something she is going to ask us to improve upon).
● Ilhan has transferred (“donated”) $168,269 from her committee to other critical organizations like the Minnesota DFL, the Human Rights Campaign, TakeAction Minnesota, Outfront Minnesota, WomenWinning and Jewish Community Action.
● Ilhan is the only Democratic congressional member from Minnesota whose campaign has donated to both the Minnesota DFL and other candidates running for office. (This point isn’t to critique other members of the Minnesota delegation, many of whom have tough races, but to remind folks what Ilhan is making investments in more than just her own campaign).
She also has a lower than average “burn rate.” That is the amount you spend to raise and how quickly you are spending money. Ilhan Omar’s has one of the lowest in Congress, meaning she spends relatively little compared to how much she raises. And of the Members of Congress who have lower burn rates, the vast majority loaned their campaigns money directly.
Next, some background on our team and our services.
We currently have more than 18 employees in offices located in DC, Phoenix, Long Beach and Sacramento. Multiple people touch Ilhan’s account each day and week. We provide the following services: high-dollar fundraising and event planning/staffing, grassroots fundraising through email and direct donate online ads, non-fundraising digital work including emails, social media, content creation and design, non-fundraising direct mail, full service video (creation, shooting, editing, mixing), ad buying, and things that a political operative would consider “general consulting services” like political plan writing, document editing, field plan monitoring, endorsement support, strategic planning, etc.
Each of these services are services that we provide other political campaigns up and down the ticket across the country as well as 501c3, 501c4, 527 and for-profit entities. The only member of Congress that we provide this full suite of services for is Ilhan for Congress.
When you go to pull expenditures on the FEC website, you can only get the processed files for 2019. So the analysis below will look just at 2019 expenditures until the FEC has processed the Q1 data.
The numbers I am using here are just from the excel spreadsheets and don’t include any modifications for purposes of in-kinds, etc.
The 2019 file says $1,300,355.25 in disbursements. E Street Group LLC received $523,441.88 in disbursements from the campaign — or roughly 40% of disbursements in 2019 went to E Street Group LLC.
We have two monthly retainers with the campaign: $5,000 for digital (including ads, email and social media) and $12,000 for non-digital fundraising and political consulting. $204,000 then or roughly 15% of the expenditures going to E Street Group LLC were for “generic” consulting services. A quick look at a disbursement download from the FEC (and our general knowledge of the industry as well as legal advice) put these at fair market value for the services we provide.
Every other receipt or disbursement was a fee-for-cost. Let’s walk through some of those though.
In 2019 we got reimbursed for $29,940 in travel expenses — something that happens with a majority of political campaigns and consultants — though some political campaigns do pay those costs directly. We actually love when a campaign pays those costs directly because it keeps political reporters from attacking us for getting reimbursed for “all these travel expenses.”
However, early last year, after several threats were made against the Congresswoman’s life, security experts advised the campaign and her consultants to take special precautions with her travel arrangements. That required additional spending and it also required names showing up on reservations that didn’t include the very obvious name Ilhan Omar. In 2019 at least four members of E Street’s staff traveled for the Congresswoman’s campaign.
The vast majority of the rest of the expenditures are those that come to our firm and are then passed on to another vendor like Facebook, Google or Centro (for digital ads), print shops, the United States Postal Service or data companies. We attach bills, invoices and receipts like we would for any other client when we send those to the campaign.
I know this information will not stop rightwing ideological outlets from their continued coverage of these services. I know there will continue to be hate, smears, and threats directed at the Congresswoman from Republicans who would like to discredit her — from the President of the United States on down. But I hope responsible journalists will take the time put aside any personal feelings they have and learn about Ilhan’s inspiring campaign and the small role we have played in its success.