An FEC complaint filed Monday by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) accuses Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her top aide, Saikat Chakrabarti, of orchestrating an “elaborate scheme to avoid proper disclosure of campaign expenditures.”
Mr. Chakrabarti is a millionaire who founded the PACs Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats after working for the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The complaint, which urges the FEC to conduct an investigation as soon as possible, accuses Chakrabarti of funneling $885,000 from the two PACs into two shell companies he controlled. The setup may have allowed AOC’s campaign to receive donations far in excess of the normal limit.
Political action committees are required by law to report how and when funds are spent, but private companies are not held to the same standards. Chakrabarti’s two LLCs seem to have been set up for the sole purpose of hiding how the donations were used.
“It does seem like there’s something amiss,” says former FEC official Adav Noti. “One is the scam PAC possibility – they’re really just paying themselves and they’re concealing it by using the LLC. The other is that there’s actually another recipient, that the money is going to the LLC and then being disbursed in some other way that they want to conceal.”
“One possibility – a strong possibility, based on the description they put out – is they just got really bad legal advice that somehow said they had to to do this,” he continues. “But regardless, when they decided to use the PAC form, which they did, they subjected themselves to all the legal requirements that come with that.”
Reports suggest AOC never told the FEC that she and Chakrabarti controlled Justice Democrats while it was supporting her primary campaign.
“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,” explains former FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky.
AOC and Chakrabarti could face jail time if the FEC determines that they intentionally withheld information about her campaign and the PACs to evade campaign contribution limits.
According to FEC filings, AOC’s campaign and Justice Democrats raised $4.6 million during her 2018 campaign. There is a max prison sentence of five years for any individual who knowingly accepts $25,000 or more in excessive campaign donations during any given year.
AOC has also been accused of intentionally underpaying her staffers in order to avoid laws requiring transparency from higher-paid officials. This is “an old trick some of the most corrupt members of Congress have used time and again,” notes NLPC director Tom Anderson.