Over the last month a great deal of information has emerged regarding the financial relationship between freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, the Justice Democrats PAC, and Brand New Congress (both the PAC and the LLC). The convoluted web of transactions seem designed to sidestep campaign finance contribution limits and reporting requirements, and have prompted at least one FEC complaint against AOC and Chakrabarti.
A complaint filed by the National Legal and Policy Center alleges that the two had legal control of the Justice Democrats PAC from December 2017 through at least late March 2018, or even through March 2019. Corporate documents filed with the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs back up that assertion, since Justice Democrats hadn’t made an updated filing as of March 8, 2019.
Justice Democrats’ website also backs up the assertion. It stated in July 2018:
“Justice Democrats PAC has a board consisting of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Saikat Chakrabarti that has legal control over the entity. The executive director of Justice Democrats is Saikat Chakrabarti. None of these people take any compensation from Justice Democrats.”
On March 15, 2019 Justice Democrats made a new filing in Washington, D.C. listing a new group of governors – and Chakrabarti and AOC are not listed.
So, what is Justice Democrats, and why would it be a major problem for AOC and her chief of staff to have been in control of it during the 2018 election?
Justice Democrats was founded by Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks, Chakrabarti, and two others (all of whom either worked for Bernie Sanders or were huge supporters of the aging socialist) in January 2017. It aimed to run “a unified campaign to replace every corporate-backed member of Congress and rebuild the Democratic Party from scratch,” and lists a Green New Deal as one of its policy/legislative goals. In December 2017 Uygur and the group’s treasurer were ousted, and AOC was brought onto the board.
Former FEC commissioner Hans Von Spakovsky described the potential campaign finance violations in an op-ed.
First, the campaign committee of Ocasio-Cortez and her political action committee, Justice Democrats PAC, may have violated federal reporting requirements.
Federal law (52 U.S.C. §30104) and the pertinent FEC regulation (11 CFR §104.3(b)(4)) require any political committee – and both of these entities would qualify – to provide itemized descriptions of all their expenditures over $200.
The Justice Democrats PAC that Ocasio-Cortez and Saikat Chakrabarti controlled also paid Brand New Congress LLC [founded and controlled by Chakrabarti] more than $600,000 for “strategic consulting.”
Simply listing $600,000 in payments to a related entity as “strategic consulting” doesn’t meet the requirement to provide itemized descriptions of the expenditures. It’s a way to mask where the money was going, and which candidates were benefiting.
But there’s more.
Moreover, if it is true that Ocasio-Cortez and/or her campaign manager controlled Justice Democrats PAC and Brand New Congress PAC, they would be considered “affiliated” organizations to her campaign organization.
Since the PACs were handing out money to the LLC to work on her campaign, the PACs and the campaign committee would be treated as the same organization by the FEC under federal law.
That means that the limit on a campaign contribution to a federal candidate ($2,700 in the 2018 election cycle) would apply to all three organizations.
In other words, if someone gave Ocasio-Cortez a $2,700 contribution and then gave another contribution to either of the other two PACS that Ocasio-Cortez and/or Chakrabarti were running, her campaign violated federal law by receiving and keeping a contribution above the legal limit. Each excessive contribution received is a separate violation of the law.
Hypocrisy, thy name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The former bartender and her Silicon Valley-enriched chief of staff probably think that they can get away with their shenanigans by virtue of this latest filing. However, she hasn’t earned her stripes with her fellow Dems, so she can’t expect the Clinton or Obama treatment. It’s safe to say that the investigation into how AOC’s campaign was financed and the extent to which the “dark money” she constantly rails against was involved is not over.