The Minneapolis Star Tribune had a report, "Ellison reveals cost of trip to Mecca: $13.5K,"about US Rep. Keith Ellison's pilgrimage to Mecca last December and who paid for it. The answer was the Muslim American Society (MAS) of Minnesota, a Muslim Brotherhood Front, picked up the tab for this alleged "personal trip." The MAS Minnesota chapter has been embroiled in the dispute over taxpayer funding of the Tarek ibn Zayed Academy (TiZA) charter school, the subject of a law suit brought by the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU against the Minnesota State Department of Education. Ellison's comment was: "I didn't do anything wrong of how he reported it. " The answers came as a result of recent responses by Ellison to US House of Representatives House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Ellison (D-MN) is one of two Muslim US Members of Congress, the other being Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN).
The Star Tribune noted this about Ellison's Mecca trip:
The two-week trip to Saudi Arabia, which Ellison described as a personal religious pilgrimage, or Hajj, prompted little discussion until June when Ellison filed financial travel reports that failed to disclose the amount the Muslim group had paid for his travel.
In releasing the amount on Thursday, Ellison held to his previous assertion that he was following the instructions of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics committee.
"I never had a moral objection to giving the number out," said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. "But the rules said I didn't have to, so I didn't. Now I am."
What changed is the committee's view of the trip.
In a Sept. 21 letter to Ellison, ethics officials had said that a "statutorily-mandated review" of Ellison's financial disclosure statements indicated that he originally had "disclosed the trip properly." But "upon further review," the committee said, Ellison must now report the cost of the trip.
The letter signed by committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama, said, "We consider this change to be merely a minor, technical correction, and we concur that you followed proper procedures and committee guidance."
Notwithstanding these exchanges, the problem was that this private trip was effectively paid for by the MAS of Minnesota whose head is the controversial director of TiZA and that the underwriting of the trip may have skirted the new lobbyist rules adopted by Congress.
But as part of the review, Ellison's office informed the panel that he did not, in fact, travel for business purposes. According to the Sept. 21 letter, Ellison "instead undertook only the more personal itinerary scheduled by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota."
Under ethics guidelines, privately sponsored trips of a purely personal nature are considered gifts, and are subject to full public disclosure. Such trips have become more frequent since 2007, when new ethics legislation barred lobbyists from sponsoring trips for members of Congress.
Ellison's trip prompted calls for an investigation by the Minnesota Republican Party, which noted that the Muslim American Society had received state funds through an affiliated charter school, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy. The school's executive director, Asad Zaman, accompanied Ellison on his trip.
A spokesman for the academy said that no public funds were used for Ellison's trip, and that the Muslim American Society commonly underwrites the travel of scholars and dignitaries for the purpose of fostering greater understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Discussion of the trip has also spilled over into the Minnesota Legislature, where some legislators -- Republican as well as DFLers -- have questioned the past flow of funds derived from public charter school rents to the Muslim American Society.
But Republicans say there are still unanswered questions.
"After the ethics committee forced him to reveal personal travel expenses of $13,350, Keith Ellison still has some explaining to do," said Tony Sutton, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party. "Since there are rules against nonprofit religious groups furthering the 'private interests' of individuals, Ellison needs to explain how this private trip was reported to the IRS."
Congressman Ellison likes to cut things pretty close to the line of what is ethical when he commented:
"Where those limits exist," he said, "I'm going to take advantage of those limits, when it's legal for me to do so. And where it's not, then I'm going to disclose."
Journalists and ethics experts who were calling on him to make the cost of the trip public, he said, were making an improper "moral judgment" and displaying "bias."
The MAS was one of several unindicted co-conspirators cited in the Dallas Federal trial and sentencing of officials of the Muslim charity Holy Land Foundation in November, 2008 for funneling funds to designated foreign terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. Moreover, the MAS Boston Chapter was involved with the controversial construction on city-owned land of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in the Roxbury section allegedly using funds from Saudi and Gulf Emirate known terror financiers. Rep. Ellison was a keynote speaker at the ISBCC dedication in June of this year.