5th congressional district spending breaks records in race not expected to be close

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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar won her 2018 election by a 56-point margin, 78% to 22% over a little-known Republican challenger. Omar raised and spent just over $1 million in that race while her opponent spent less than $23,000. Omar’s 2020 re-election bid is also not expected to be close in the most Democratic-leaning district in Minnesota. So, it’s surprising that the 2020 campaign is likely to be the most expensive House race in Minnesota history.

According to campaign finance records compiled by the website opensecrets.org, Republican Lacy Johnson has raised more than $10 million and spent about $9.7 million as of Oct. 14. That’s an astounding 44,000% increase over the GOP total in 2018. It’s also twice as much as Omar, who has raised $5.4 million and spent $5.2 million, a 410% increase over her 2018 fundraising.

"I’m going to guess one of the 10 most expensive congressional races in the country for one of the least competitive districts in the country and it makes no sense," said Hamline University political analyst and campaign finance expert David Schultz. "We’ve never had anything like this. This goes into the record books."

By comparison, Congressman Collin Peterson and his Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach have raised $4.5 million combined for their race in the Seventh District. In another tight race in the First District, Republican Congressman Jim Hagedorn and Democratic challenger Dan Feehan have raised a combined $6.5 million.

Another interesting comparison is to the Fourth District where Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum represents the second-most Democratic-leaning district in Minnesota. McCollum and her little-known Republican challenger have raised just $982,000 combined, with the challenger raising only $20,000.

Omar’s spending has come under scrutiny before because she’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for consulting services with the "E Street Group," which is owned by her husband, Tim Mynett. In the 2019-20 election cycle, KSTP analysis of campaign finance reports indicates she’s paid the firm $849,322, mostly for "fundraising consulting" and digital advertising services.

"On the face of it, it doesn’t look good," Schultz said. "Which raises some ethical questions here and there might be some legal questions here as well."

But Omar’s campaign said there’s nothing inappropriate about spending that much money with her husband’s company because of the expertise they bring to the campaign.

2020 Election Coverage

"Our team has already made over 1 million outreach attempts in phone calls, texts, and in-person contact to the district, along with digital ads that allow us to do that work," according to a statement from the campaign about our story. "That’s where our resources go…"

The campaign statement goes on to say they’re also spending so much money so they can help defeat President Donald Trump in Minnesota by boosting turnout in the Fifth District.

It’s also likely Republicans are also trying to boost Republican turnout in the district to help Trump even though he’ll lose by a wide margin in the district. Any extra votes he does get would go toward his statewide total.

Schultz said there are probably many reasons why spending is so high in the Fifth District, despite the fact there’s almost no chance Johnson will win.

"I think there are a lot of Republicans and I’m even going to say some within the Democratic Party would like to see Ilhan Omar gone," Schultz said. "But the reality is she’s going to probably win re-election."

The final reports won’t be in until later in the fall, but with the Fifth District primary between Omar and Antone Melton-Meaux and the general election, total spending in the district has surpassed $20 million. Melton-Meaux spent $4.5 million in the Democratic primary. The total does not include another $2.7 million in spending by outside interest groups during the primary.