It was announced on Friday that Saikat Chakrabarti — the rhetorical bomb-thrower and driving force behind New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election and socialism-wrapped-in-climate-change Green New Deal proposal — would resign his position of chief of staff in the freshman congresswoman’s office.
That move may have been intended to smooth over hard feelings and heal the rift Chakrabarti helped create between moderate Democrats and progressive leftists like himself, but it also coincided with the revelation that he was the subject of a Federal Elections Commission (FEC) inquiry into potential campaign finance violations.
The New York Post, citing unnamed federal sources, reported that the FEC probe into Chakrabarti is largely focused on two political action committees he founded and allegedly dubious financial transfers that occurred between those PACs and two similarly named private companies Chakrabarti established around the same time.
The two PACs, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, were created for the purpose of helping progressive leftist candidates get elected to Congress, with Ocasio-Cortez being a success story of sorts for Chakrabarti’s PACs.
Chakrabarti also created two limited liability corporations with similar names as the first PAC — Brand New Congress LLC and Brand New Campaign LLC — and it has been alleged in a complaint filed with the FEC that more than $1 million in political donations to the PACs were improperly funneled through the private companies or roughly one-third of the reported $3.3 million raised in 2016 and 2017 by the PACs.
That FEC complaint was filed in March by a government watchdog group called the National Legal and Policy Center, and it alleged that the private companies were created as a vehicle to get around strict federal disclosure and transparency regulations on political fundraising and spending that apply to PACs but not private companies.
The complaint also put forward concerns about the possibility that the money funneled through the private companies could have potentially been used to exceed the federal limit of $5,000 for donations from PACs to individual candidates.
However, it remains entirely unclear at this point if that actually did occur, much less if Ocasio-Cortez herself was the recipient of such monetary donations to her campaign.
Another thing that federal investigators are likely looking into has to do with recent salary changes imposed by Ocasio-Cortez on her staff that gave a substantial raise to most junior staffers while Chakrabarti actually received a substantial pay cut, down to $80,000 from an unknown sum that averages around $146,000 for a congressional chief of staff.
That dramatic drop in Chakrabarti’s salary put him below the minimum level set by Congress of $126,000 that would require the disclosure of his private financial information, especially outside income received.
If the allegations of PAC money being improperly funneled through the private companies are true, such a scheme could potentially have been exposed in the disclosure of Chakrabarti’s personal financial details, allegedly giving rise to the attempted work-around.
It is entirely possible that everything done by Chakrabarti and Ocasio-Cortez was within the scope of the law, and they will be will be cleared by the FEC, but if not, the inquiry should expose any and all violations to the public and hold the wrongdoers fully accountable for their misdeeds.