WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota Republicans in two counties say they’re outraged that two sugar beet-based political action committees in the state are donating to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., in the Fifth District.

Without evidence, they are suggesting an influence by 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. — a claim that his reelection campaign flatly denies.

Paul Hoffer (pronounced “HAW-fer”), chairman of the Kandiyohi Republicans at Willmar, Minn., issued a news release, citing Redwood County Republicans in their Facebook page recently became outraged about a $5,000 donation to Omar’s reelection campaign. The Redwood County officials had seen a Federal Elections Commission filing by the Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet PAC, associated with the Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative at Renville, Minn.

The American Crystal Sugar PAC donated $10,000 to Omar's campaign.

“The donations are quite surprising given Omar’s outspoken support for anti-farming policies such as the Green New Deal and the fact that she doesn’t have a single farm in her district,” Hoffer said.

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“Honestly, I’m in disbelief,” said the retired sheet metal installer. “I’ve talked to a lot of sugar beet growers and other farmers who are just as shocked and angered as I am by this news. Quite frankly, we would like some answers as to why this happened.”

Without citing evidence, Hoffer speculated whether the donation was because of “pull” from Peterson, the 7th District congressman, who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

“The only reason I can think of for them to give money to a radical liberal like Omar is if Collin made a deal to get her that money,” Hoffer said in the news release. In an interview with Agweek, he laughed when asked if he had evidence Peterson had had an influence, but acknowledged it would be illegal for a member of Congress to direct funds from a PAC.

Sue Dieter, a Peterson campaign spokeswoman at Morris, Minn., said Peterson had nothing to do with the PAC's decisions.

Steven Domm, president and CEO for Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, referred questions to the co-op's lobbyist David Bieging in Washington, who said the company had given Omar $5,000 the day before the election on Nov. 6, 2018, and have not donated since. He said there is no connection with Peterson.

Kevin Price, American Crystal Sugar vice president for governmental affairs in Washington, who supervises the American Crystal Sugar PAC, said any contributions to Omar had nothing to do with Peterson.

Price acknowledged he’s responded to a few questions from farmers, but said the sugar industry seeks support from all members of Congress, and can’t afford to ignore any of them.

Specifically, Omar:

  • Helped the ACS-PAC and other cooperative-based PACs after the 2018 election. He said Omar defended the cooperative-based PAC support for her, distinguishing it from other kinds of corporate PACs. Because of this, the co-op PAC was able to talk with at least 25 members of Congress that had pledged not to accept “corporate PAC” donations.

  • Is “lead whip” of the House Progressive Caucus, made up of 90 Democrats, making her a persuasive voice in the left wing of the Democratic party in Congress.

  • Knows the Red River Valley, after graduating from North Dakota State University in Fargo, and is responsive to calls and meetings.

The Hoffer press release emphasizes “sugar representatives” had led efforts to create a separate Super PAC, called the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities, planning to raise $1 million for Peterson. Hoffer said he realized the Super PAC had not donated to Omar.

Omar, 37, a Somali refugee, graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo in political science and international studies and was a policy fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She worked in community nutrition for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Education and in 2015 became director of policy initiatives for the Women Organizing Women Network. She served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2017 to 2019, until beating her Republican rival Jennifer Zielinski for the congressional seat by a margin of 56.4 percentage points. She was the first Minnesota woman of color to be elected to Congress. She and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., were the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

In the general election, Omar faces four challengers, including Republican Lacy Johnson, a computer technologist and entrepreneur. The Fifth District is a heavily Democratic district, and Omar received 78% of the vote to win her seat in 2018.