Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been hit with a second FEC complaint accusing her campaign of shady financial dealings.
Ocasio-Cortez’s top aide funneled over a million dollars in campaign donations through multiple entities and may have violated campaign finance laws, according to the complaint, which some election law experts think could result in “big trouble” and even jail time for the popular socialist upstart.
The Washington Examiner’s Alana Goodman reported that Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign manager-turned-chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, appears to have been operating, in addition to the congressional campaign, two Political Action Committees and two affiliated limited liability corporations, all of which listed Ocasio-Cortez and/or Chakrabarti as being in charge.
On top of that, more than $1 million was funneled from the PACs through the LLCs, which obscured the ultimate end use of those funds and could be a violation of campaign finance laws. It should be noted that PACs are subject to very strict reporting requirements. LLCs, which are private businesses, do not have the same requirements.
Ironically, the opaque financial structure runs counter to Ocasio-Cortez’s stated intentions to be fully transparent and fight against “dark money.”
This isn’t transparent
The FEC complaint, filed by the National Legal and Policy Center, asks the FEC to investigate and audit the PACs. Tom Anderson, the director of the NLPC’s Government Integrity Project, said, “It appears Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her associates ran an off-the-books operation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thus violating the foundation of all campaign finance laws: transparency.”
At the core of the complaint are two PACs founded by Chakrabarti — Brand New Congress PAC and Justice Democrats PAC, set up in 2016 and 2017, respectively — as well as the two affiliated LLCs created in 2017, Brand New Campaign LLC and Brand New Congress LLC.
In all, more than $1 million was funneled in large lump sums from the PACs to the LLCs, ostensibly for “strategic consulting.” At the very least, that should constitute reporting violations, but at worst, could be evidence of a scam for individuals to enrich themselves off the donations to the campaign.
“Big trouble” and “jail time”
The Daily Caller reported that campaign finance and election law experts were baffled by the arrangement.
Former Republican FEC commissioner Hans von Spakovsky told The Daily Caller News Foundation: “If the facts as alleged are true, and a candidate had control over a PAC that was working to get that candidate elected, then that candidate is potentially in very big trouble and may have engaged in multiple violations of federal campaign finance law, including receiving excessive contributions
Brad Smith, another former FEC commissioner, said if “a complaint were filed, I would think it would trigger a serious investigation.” AOC and Chakrabarti could even face jail time, he told the DCNF.
“If this were determined to be knowing and willful, they could be facing jail time,” Smith said. “Even if it’s not knowing and willful, it would be a clear civil violation of the act, which would require disgorgement of the contributions and civil penalties. I think they’ve got some real issues here.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s office, Chakrabarti and the people who are now listed as running the various PACs and LLCs all declined to provide comment to either the Examiner or the Caller.