After yesterday's Star Tribune piece on Rep. Keith Ellison's pilgrimage to Mecca late last year, the 5th District Democrat is firing back, asking the paper for a correction in a letter to the editor today. The Strib article by Kevin Diaz reported that the congressman's trip was paid for by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, an organization that received nearly $900,000 in taxpayer funds in 2006 and 2007 for renting space to Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a school that receives public funds.
Diaz wrote that Ellison faces a review by the Ethics Committee for his "decision to keep the trip's costs under wraps — even though it was paid for by a local Islamic nonprofit and typically would be reported as a gift to a public official."
Yesterday, the Minnesota GOP cited the paper's report in a letter to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, concluding:
Rep. Ellison's actions and stonewalling are clearly wrong and he should apologize to the people of Minnesota. Taxpayer money intended for students must never be used for a politician's personal travel. To avoid the appearance of inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, we also believe he should reimburse the state for any and all expenses incurred during this travel immediately.
In his letter to the editor Thursday, Ellison said the Strib story's "opinions and spurious connections… do not stand up in light of the actual facts." He says he submitted the invitation from the Muslim nonprofit to the House Ethics Committee, where it was approved.
"The Star Tribune knows that I followed the spirit and the letter of the House rules, as communicated to me by House ethics lawyers, at every step of the process," he wrote, adding that the ethics review is a standard procedure in the House, sparked by the newspaper's inquiry.
Ellison, Congress' first Muslim member, said that despite his public stature he deserves a private life.
"Privacy is not undiscovered dishonesty," he wrote. "Some things are private. For example, family and religion. My trip, which was not at taxpayer expense, and paid for by a nonprofit organization that does not lobby, was handled according to the House rules, which balance disclosure and privacy."