MN state government gave more than a $1 billion directly to nonprofits last year. What could go wrong?


Deena Winter of MN Reformer did a deep dive today into the tsunami of cash going directly to nonprofits in last year’s state budget. She comes up with a figure above $1.1 billion (with a “b”) across all state agencies.

Winter notes the many problems inherent in this approach to delivering government services. Most prominent among them is due diligence,

State agencies typically award a grant after performing background checks and analyzing proposals, giving it to the applicant that best meets their criteria. 

But nonprofits can also receive funding by being directly named in the Legislature’s budget bills—through what are known as legislatively named grants—and last year was a bonanza for this type of funding.

As an addendum to her report, Winter includes a list of such direct grantees, a list which runs to 16 pages.

Winter also notes the disproportionate size of some of these direct appropriations (earmarks),

Minnesota lawmakers last year showered nonprofit groups with over $1.1 billion, with some receiving more money from the Legislature than they normally get in other grants and donations in an entire year.

One nonprofit found in the 16-page addendum is named Isuroon. Founded more than 10 years ago, Isuroon provides a wide range of social services focused on Somali women in Minnesota. Its CEO and founder is Fartun Weli.

Early last month, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a profile of the Somalia-born Weli and her nonprofit. The Star Tribune reports that the word “isuroon” means “women who take care of themselves financially, emotionally and socially” in Weli’s native language. Google Translate returns with the single word “peace.”

Weli’s Isuroon is set receive $1 million in a direct appropriation through the state’s Dept of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) plus another $3 million through DEED for a building project.

The $1 million grant is for Isuroon to provide entrepreneurial training to African immigrant women in Minnesota. It was included in SF 3035, DEED’s budget bill, whose House author was Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Minneapolis). Hassan also authored two other bills to provide direct grants to Isuroon.

The $3 million was included in the state bonding bill last year (HF 670) and is earmarked to renovate Isuroon’s current headquarters building, located on Lake Street in south Minneapolis. It’s not clear what compelling statewide interest lies in a multi-million-dollar renovation of an obscure nonprofit’s headquarters. But, here we are.

Isuroon owns the small, multi-tenant office building at 1600 East Lake Street, having purchased the property in 2017 for $750,000, according to county property records. The nonprofit borrowed money to pay for the building.

That combined $4 million in state money is larger than the nonprofit’s annual revenue in any year of its existence, according to filings made by Isuroon with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and accounting audits of the company.

In fact, Isuroon was a rather modest affair, pre-Covid. In 2020, the non-profit’s revenue tripled, to more than $3 million. Of that amount, about $500,000 came from private-sector donations and more than $2,500,000 came from government grants.

Most of that government money ($1,559,583) went toward providing Covid-related housing grants to 571 households, for an average of $2,700 per recipient.

The year 2020 was notable for another reason. In February 2020, Isuroon’s founder, Fartun Weli, registered the Somali American Women Political Action Committee (PAC) with the state’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB). Weli serves as the PAC’s chair.

Here’s a screenshot of Isuroon’s 2020 IRS Form 990 nonprofit tax filing,

As you can see, both the PAC and the nonprofit Isuroon share the same address. The PAC was seeded in 2020 with a donation from Isuroon.

Strictly speaking, they can’t do that. Isuroon is organized as a 501c3 (charity) nonprofit, whose donors are eligible for tax deductions. Here is the Q&A on this topic at the official IRS website,

May a section 501(c)(3) organization make a contribution to a political organization described in section 527 (such as a candidate committee, political party committee or political action committee (PAC))?

No, a section 501(c)(3) organization may not make a contribution to a political organization described in section 527 (such as a candidate committee, political party committee or political action committee (PAC)).  Nor may such an organization establish and maintain a separate segregated fund under section 527.


Other types of nonprofits, such as 501c4 (dark money) outfits, can and do give directly to PACs. Isuroon does not appear to have a 501c4 affiliate.

According to the PAC’s 2020 financial report filed with the CFB filed (past-due) on March 29, 2021, the PAC’s sole receipt for the year was a $15,000 personal loan from Weli.

Earlier this month (Feb. 2024), a different treasurer for the PAC, filed an amended report for 2020 with the $15,000 loan now replaced by a straight $20,000 donation,

It should be noted that, in both her personal giving and through the PAC, Weli’s campaign donations are strictly bipartisan, she gives to both Democrats and Republicans.

Similar to 2020, the PAC’s 2021 report was the subject of three subsequent amendments.

The current report on file for 2022 (Amendment No. 2) shows that the PAC’s sole receipt for the year was a donation of more than $23,000 from Weli.

One miscellaneous expense for 2022 stands out. The PAC spent $2,000 on media with Mohamed Noor, a videographer who goes by the stage name of Deeq Darajo, and he happens (coincidentally) also to be Feeding Our Future Defendant No. 49.

I took this picture of the building housing Noor’s offices on Oakland Avenue last summer,

The PAC’s largest single donation for 2022 was $2,500 sent to Keith Ellison’s re-election campaign. As state Attorney General, Ellison nominally oversees all nonprofits in the state. As an individual, Weli has given additional money to Ellison.

A search for “Isuroon” in the Attorney General’s charity database produces no results.

On January 3, 2023, Weli personally donated the maximum amount of $1,000 to the re-election campaign of Rep. Hassan. In February 2023, Hassan introduced her bill HF 2151, which included the $3 million building grant for Isuroon.

My problem is not who gets the money and why. My problem here is that money from a registered 501c3 charity is going directly to political campaign contributions.

Back to Isuroon. The nonprofit had a registered food distribution site at its 1600 E. Lake St. location, said to be capable of feeding up to 1,500 children per day. The site was under the sponsorship of Partners in Nutrition.

In 2021, the nonprofit’s overall revenue fell to $2 million with the housing assistance program shrinking down to a mere $206,000.

At the same time, the nonprofit’s debt load ballooned to $2.4 million.

2022 saw the nonprofit’s revenue shrink further, to $1.5 million. The company showed a net loss of $390,000. On the positive side, the debt load had fallen to $1.7 million.

Fast forward to 2024, and the taxpayer-funded renovation of Isuroon’s Lake Street headquarters is underway and the company has decamped, temporarily, to a satellite office.