Keith Ellison’s political career began with controversy over his links to the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, connections that continues to dog him to the present day despite his repeated disavowals. But less commonly known is another radical association of Ellison’s: a decade-long relationship with Marxist University of Minnesota professor and 1974 Communist Party gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, Erwin Marquit. Marquit helped launch Ellison’s national political career in 2006 using Marquit’s political connections, anti-war associations, personal donations, and hosting at least four fundraisers over the years for Ellison in the Marquit home near Cedar Lake in the Bryn Mawr section of Minneapolis.

Marquit, the “state’s best-known Communist” according to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune profile published shortly before Marquit’s death from cancer in 2015, openly supported Ellison from the start. In his Memoirs of a Lifelong Communist, Marquit wrote that he and his wife Doris actively solicited backing for Ellison as early as May 2006, sought signatures for a letter of support for Ellison that was circulated among anti-Iraq war activists, and hosted the first fundraiser for Ellison in their home in July 2006. Marquit also went door-to-door for Ellison, also described in his memoirs:

When someone appeared at the door, I would begin by introducing myself by name. I was not surprised when one of the first responses I got was, “Oh, you’re the Communist at the University of Minnesota.” Two or three others recognized me in a similar manner. The fact that I was campaigning for Ellison did not seem to bother any of them.

Neighbors of the Marquits, Dave Holets and his wife Nancy Arneson, signed on as co-hosts for the fundraisers. Holets told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he himself was not that familiar with Ellison at the time, but agreed to co-host at Marquit’s request. He recalls helping Marquit post flyers on the doors of neighboring houses announcing the fundraisers and said about 40-50 people attended. Holets says Marquit told him that he attended marches for various social causes with Ellison during that time.

One of the attendees of a December 2013 Ellison fundraiser was an 18-year-old high school senior named Matthew Voges. Voges, now a law student in Boston, told TWS that although he became a conservative during his college years, he was himself then a member of the Communist party, an eager upcoming Marxist, and Erwin Marquit was his mentor. “Many Communist party members were in attendance [at the fundraiser,] although I don’t believe all of the attendees were Communists,” Voges said.

In contemporaneous notes Voges made of the 2013 fundraiser, which he shared with TWS, Voges wrote:

The private DFL [Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, a Democratic Party affiliate] fundraiser was held at a sprawling house in the wealthy part of Minneapolis proper … I had come to meet Keith Ellison, the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th district and the first Muslim congressman. My invite came through the host, prolific Communist Party member and professor emeritus Erwin Marquit.

Voges wrote that after Ellison made his entrance, various members of Minneapolis’s “left-wing intelligentsia arrived,” though he could not recall names of the attendees. He said that Ellison frequently referred to him (Voges) during his talk about campaign issues “as the tie-in to my generation.” After the fundraiser, Voges volunteered for the Ellison campaign for several months, manning phones and attending several other campaign events, but still being in high school, he said his participation was limited.

Voges shared a copy of an email announcing the December 2013 house party to which Erwin Marquit invited Voges. A partial screenshot of the email is below:

The email continues:

Join me for a conversation on US foreign policy across the world and ways we can restore America’s standing abroad and foster more respectful relationships with the world’s nations.

There will be refreshments, and no charge at the door; all are welcome. (An opportunity will be offered to contribute to Ellison for Congress)

Click here to RSVP online. You can also RSVP by calling or emailing Dinah Dale, Finance Director, at
dinah@keithellison.org or 612.522.4416.

Hope to see you on the 17th!


(The address shown in the email for the Marquit home matches the address in the Federal Election Commission records reporting Marquit’s Ellison donations.)

Ellison, of course, went on to win his party’s nomination as well as the general election in 2006. Marquit recorded that “Doris and I, again with Dave [Holets] and Nancy [Arneson], have since held three more fundraisers in our home for Ellison, in May 2009, September, 2011 and December 2013.” FEC records show that over the course of a decades, Marquit personally donated more than $6,500 to Ellison in addition to the donations Marquit solicited from others.

Although there is not a lot of evidence that Ellison and Marquit socialized together, Marquit noted that one way Ellison expressed his appreciation for Marquit’s support was a surprise drop-in at his August 2006 80th birthday party. “I was surprised when Keith Ellison, who had been tipped off about the party, dropped by to extend birthday wishes,” Marquit wrote. But despite the relationship, Ellison does not mention Marquit in his 2014 book My Country, ‘Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future.

Although Erwin Marquit died in 2015, Minnesota’s “best-known Communist” helped Keith Ellison, now the No. 2 official at the Democratic National Committee and current candidate for attorney general in Minnesota, in no fewer than five campaigns, including Ellison’s inaugural run that set in motion his rise to national prominence. During that time period, Marquit still occasionally wrote for the website of the Communist Party USA, and Marquit was a delegate to the National Convention of the Communist Party USA right up through 2014, the year before his death.

Though Ellison has tried to distance himself repeatedly from Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, the congressman has never distanced himself from Marquit or from the support and donations provided by one of better-known Communists in the country. Along with Ellison’s penchant for defending cop-killers, namely Sharif Willis, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Assata Shakur, Ellison’s relationships with Farrakhan and Marquit cement his reputation as a radical’s radical.

Ellison’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on his relationship with the late Communist party member Erwin Marquit.

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