In a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), a top aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has been accused of improperly funneling nearly $1 million in campaign contributions to private firms he controls, according to a piece from The Daily Mail.
The complaint, which named both Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, alleges that Chakrabarti violated federal election law after setting up a political action committee called the Brand New Congress PAC in order to assist other new members of Congress, then transferring some $885,000 from the PAC to private companies he controlled. In an interview with The Daily Caller, the report says, an unnamed former FEC commissioner suggested both Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti could face not only fines but even jail time.
The controversy was uncovered by the National Legal and Policy Center’s (NLPC) Government Integrity Project, a right-leaning non-profit watchdog group that monitors and reports on alleged ethics violations by public officials, primarily officials that are on the left or Democrats.
However, even considering the political leanings of the source of the story about the alleged violation, it does appear that there could well be some impropriety in the manner in which Ocasio-Cortez, Chakrabarti, and her campaign staff have handled donations. At issue is the fact that they have set up not just one but two PACs, the aforementioned Brand New Congress PAC and the Justice Democrats, and then a private company as well. What the complaint from the NLPC alleges is that Chakrabarti took nearly $1 million from Brand New Congress and transferred it to a private company he had set up, the Brand New Campaign LLC.
Under campaign finance rules, expenditures from a PAC are required to be disclosed, whereas private companies have no such requirements. The complicated operations are not easily explained away, even for people intimately familiar with how campaign finance law works.
“None of that makes any sense,” said former FEC lawyer Adav Noti. “I can’t even begin to disentangle that. They’re either confused or they’re trying to conceal something.”
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez responded to inquiries from The Washington Examiner, which broke the story, by reminding them that Chakrabarti doesn’t work for her directly. Although he helped set up the PACs that helped her and others get elected, they are not directly tied to her or her campaign.
“He’s not on my payroll,” she said. “They were not working for me and they are two separate entities here. This is the difference between an LLC and a PAC.”