A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission alleges that one of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s top aides channeled $1 million in campaign donations to companies he owned.
According to The Washington Times, the complaint by the National Legal and Policy Center alleges that Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, set up a political action committee called Brand New Congress PAC “to collect and bundle donations for newbie politicians including Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.”
“He then diverted more than $1 million to two of his companies that did campaign work, skirting reporting requirements,” the complaint alleges, according to the newspaper. (Read the full complaint here.)
Chakrabarti has been one of the more visible members of the freshman representative’s coterie.
For those who weren’t familiar with the New York Democrat’s camp or its various apparatchiks, you may have first found out about Chakrabarti when he became the individual given the unenviable task of walking back that infamous Green New Deal FAQ.
However, he played an important role in the Ocasio-Cortez campaign — and one the complaint alleges violated the law.
“These are not minor or technical violations. We are talking about real money here,” Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project, told The Washington Times.
“In all my years of studying FEC reports, I’ve never seen a more ambitious operation to circumvent reporting requirements.”
Anderson noted one of the bigger hypocrisies of the scandal, saying that Ocasio-Cortez “has been quite vocal in condemning so-called dark money, but her own campaign went to great lengths to avoid the sunlight of disclosure.”
Indeed, the real issue here is not an accusation that Chakrabarti stole the money. He was already a Silicon Valley millionaire before he got into far-left politics, and while Washington can be a great place to enrich oneself, skimming money this way would be a profoundly dense thing to do.
However, once the PAC money was safely in the two companies that Chakrabarti ran — Brand New Congress LLC and Brand New Campaign LLC — it was all safely out the domain of FEC reporting requirements.
As a Washington Examiner report on the topic put it:
“Chakrabarti’s companies appear to have been set up for the sole purpose of obscuring how the political donations were used.”
Such companies don’t have to report their spending or itemize it, making them an attractive way to circumvent campaign finance law. The NLPC complaint says that the setup could have violated a federal law that caps campaign contributions federal PACs to candidates at $5,000, The Washington Times reported.
There’s also the odd fact the Ocasio-Cortez campaign paid Brand New Congress LLC for consulting services.
Either way, the money can be described as “missing,” since the donations that got funneled into the companies currently can’t be accounted for.
According to the Washington Examiner, campaign finance attorneys interviewed said the arrangement was “really weird” and a sign that “there’s something amiss.”
“They said there was no way of telling where the political donations went — meaning they could have been pocketed or used by the company to pay for off-the-books campaign operations,” the Examiner reported.
Chakrabarti started out in politics as an organizer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and would later start progressive PACs Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats; one of the beneficiaries of his PACs was Ocasio-Cortez.
“In 2016 and 2017, Chakrabarti’s PACs raised about $3.3 million for the project, primarily from small donors. During this time, the committees transferred over $1 million to two shell companies controlled by Chakrabarti with names similar to one of the PACs, Brand New Campaign LLC and Brand New Congress LLC, according to federal election filings,” the Examiner reported.
“A few weeks after starting the Brand New Congress PAC, Chakrabarti formed one of the companies, Brand New Campaign LLC, in Delaware, using a registered agent service and mailbox-only address.
“Over the next seven months, as small-dollar political donations poured into the PAC from progressives across the country, the committee transferred over $200,000, 82 percent of the contributions, to the company Brand New Campaign LLC. The payments were for ‘strategic consulting,’ according to federal election filings. They were sent to an apartment address listed for Chakrabarti in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan,” the report continued.
Former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith told the Examiner the operation was unusual.
“It’s a really weird situation,” he said. “I see almost no way that you can do that without it being at least a reporting violation, quite likely a violation of the contribution limits. You might say from a campaign finance angle that the LLC was essentially operating as an unregistered committee.”
Adav Noti, a former FEC lawyer and senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, told the Examiner the arrangement was suspicious.
“It does seem like there’s something amiss. I can only think of really two likely possibilities for this sort of pattern of disbursements,” he said. “One is the scam PAC possibility — they’re really just paying themselves and they’re concealing it by using the LLC. The other is that there’s actually another recipient, that the money is going to the LLC and then being disbursed in some other way that they want to conceal.”
This isn’t the only FEC complaint against Chakrabarti’s multifarious entities, either.
Last week, according to The Washington Times, another conservative group, the Coolidge Reagan Foundation, alleged in a complaint that the Brand New Congress PAC channeled money to Ocasio-Cortez’s boyfriend, 29-year-old Riley Roberts, by paying him a total of $6,000 as a “marketing consultant.”
“The timing and amounts of these transactions, the use of two affiliated entities as intermediaries, the vague and amorphous nature of the services Riley ostensibly provided, the magnitude of these transactions compared to both the limited funds the campaign had raised at the time and the total amount of its expenditures, and the romantic relationship between Ocasio-Cortez and Riley collectively establish reason to believe these transactions may have violated campaign finance law,” the group’s complaint read.
As for Ocasio-Cortez, she focused on the companies involved when asked about the latest scandal.
“He’s not on my payroll. They were not working for me and they are two separate entities here,” she told The Washington Times. “This is the difference between an LLC and a PAC.”
Maybe that settles everything, and maybe it’s all just a big-money bookkeeping dispute.
But it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
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