New York freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff reportedly funnelled campaign contributions from two political action committees into his own private companies, according to a new FEC complaint filed Monday.
The Washington Examiner reports that according to the complaint, Saikat Chakrabarti, one of AOC’s top aides, founded two PACs that now “appear to have been set up for the sole purpose of obscuring how the political donations were used.”
According to federal election filing records, hundreds of thousands of campaign contributions to the two PACs, called “Brand New Congress” and “Justice Democrats,” were allegedly transferred into two shell companies also run by Chakrabarti, called "Brand New Campaign LLC" and "Brand New Congress LLC," the Examiner reports.
“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.”
In 2017, another $240,000 was transferred from the Brand New Congress PAC to Brand New Congress LLC for ‘strategic consulting,’ while Justice Democrats transferred an additional $605,000 to the same company.
According to the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group that filed the FEC complaint, the arrangement between the two PACs and the LLCs “skirted reporting requirements and may have violated the $5,000 limit on contributions from federal PACs to candidates.” Because the money was shifted from the PACs, which are required to disclose how they spend campaign donations, to private LLCs, there’s no real way of knowing how the money was spent or whether it ended up going to off-record campaign operations in order to avoid disclosure laws.
"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,” explained Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center's Government Integrity Project.
Bradley Smith, a former chairman of the FEC, told the Washington Examiner, "It's a really weird situation."
"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," Smith said. "You might say from a campaign finance angle that the LLC was essentially operating as an unregistered committee."
Ironically, AOC herself has been an outspoken critic of "dark money" in politics, vowing to increase transparency in campaign funding. The Washington Examiner reported a spokesperson for AOC's office declined to comment on the new accusations.