Minnesota Film Received Taxpayer Money to Promote Rep. Ilhan Omar

The makers of a new documentary about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) are being questioned by state lawmakers after it was revealed that the project was subsidized with taxpayer dollars.

Under the Minnesota Film and Television Board’s “Snowbate” incentive program, Minneapolis filmmaker Norah Shapiro was granted a rebate of up to $11,000 for her production of “Time for Ilhan,” which is now playing at the taxpayer-funded Walker Art Center.

The Snowbate program grants local artists a “reimbursement” of up to 25 percent of “production expenditures,” and was introduced in 1997 to incentivize local film makers.

According to Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake), the producers of the film applied for the program in March 2017, and were granted a 20 percent rebate that is expected “to be $11,852 in taxpayer money.”

“Taxpayer money should not be spent on a film about a sitting elected official and candidate for higher office,” O’Neill said in a press release. “Furthermore, the film is being played right in her own district. It’s free political advertising at taxpayer expense and it’s not right.”

O’Neill submitted a Data Practices Request to the Minnesota Film and Television Board seeking “any and all communications” regarding the new film about Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker who is now expected to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.

“Minnesotans expect transparency and fairness in government, and approving taxpayer dollars for a project like this is simply wrong,” O’Neill added, though Shapiro responded by saying her film was produced “independent” of Omar.

“We stand by our film, which was completely and artistically independent of Rep. Omar, and we have nothing to hide,” Shapiro told The Star Tribune. In June 2018, however, Shapiro donated $250 to Omar’s campaign and has donated to several other Democratic candidates and causes, according to the Center of Responsive Politics.

“The rules of the program are fairly straightforward, and there has been nothing about this project that raised any issues,” Minnesota Film and Television Board Executive Director Melodie Bahan stated.

Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment responded to incident as yet “another example of why taxpayer subsidies of First Amendment activities” is “a bad idea.”

“Taxpayers are now funding the left-leaning ‘arts’ community,” the center wrote. “If people want to speak, they should not get public dollars. Period.”

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].






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