A former FEC commissioner, meanwhile, has suggested that Ocasio-Cortez and her team could be facing major fines and potentially even jail time if their actions were knowing and willful violations of the law.
The FEC filing asserts that Chakrabarti established two political action commitees, the Brand New Congress PAC and Justice Democrats PAC, and then systematically transfered more than $885,000 in contributions received by those PACs to the Brand New Congress LLC — a company that, unlike the PACs, is exempt from reporting all of its expenditures over $200. The PACs claimed the payments were for “strategic consulting.”
Although such transfers would not necessarily be improper, the complaint, drafted by the conservative, Virginia-based National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), argues that the goal of the “extensive” scheme was seemingly to illegally dodge detailed legal reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which are designed to track campaign expenditures.
Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti, according to the complaint, appeared to have “orchestrated an extensive off-the-books operation to make hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures in support of multiple candidates for federal office.”
The funds, the NLPC writes, were apparently spent on campaign events for Ocasio-Cortez and other far-left Democratic candidates favored by Chakrabarti, who made his fortune in Silicon Valley and previously worked on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. But no precise accounting for the expenses is available, and the complaint asks the FEC to conduct an investigation into the matter immediately.
“These are not minor or technical violations,” Tom Anderson, director of NLPC’s Government Integrity Project, said in a statement. “We are talking about real money here. In all my years of studying FEC reports, I’ve never seen a more ambitious operation to circumvent reporting requirements. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has been quite vocal in condemning so-called dark money, but her own campaign went to great lengths to avoid the sunlight of disclosure.”
Added Anderson: “They believe their cause is so great that they don’t have to play by the rules. They believe that they are above campaign finance law.” He charged that Ocasio-Cortez “has been quite vocal in condemning so-called dark money, but her own campaign went to great lengths to avoid the sunlight of disclosure.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not return a request for comment.
In announcing the complaint the NLPC pointed to a 2016 interview on MSNBC, in which the 33-year-old Chakrabarti told anchor Rachel Maddow that he wanted to employ a “single, unified presidential-style campaign” model to “galvanize” voters nationally to elect progressives to Congress, while helping candidates avoid the stress of fundraising and managing their own campaigns.
Other legal experts also sounded the alarm on Monday, saying Chakrabarti’s unusual arrangement was suspect — and could even result in jail time for Ocasio-Cortez and her team.
Former FEC commissioner Brad Smith told the Daily Caller: “If this were determined to be knowing and willful, they could be facing jail time. Even if it’s not knowing and willful, it would be a clear civil violation of the act, which would require disgorgement of the contributions and civil penalties. I think they’ve got some real issues here.”
Former FEC Associate General Counsel for Policy Adav Noti, who currently directs the Campaign Legal Center, told Fox News that it was a “total mystery” to him why Chakrabarti had established an LLC seemingly to take money from the PAC, rather than simply create a “normal venture,” like a consulting business to provide services for candidates on the books.
“Certainly, it’s not permissible to use an LLC or any other kind of LLC or any other kind of intermediary to conceal the recipient or purpose of a PAC’s spending,” Noti said. “The law requires the PAC to report who it disperses money to. You can’t try to evade that by routing it through an LLC or corporation or anyone else.”
Noti added: “What’s so weird about this situation is that the PAC that dispersed so much of its money to one entity that was so clearly affiliated with the PAC. Usually, that’s a sign that its whats come to be known as a ‘scam PAC’ — one that’s operated for the finanical benefit of its operators, rather than one designed to engage in political activity.”
At the same time, Noti said, Chakrabarti had provided “long descriptions of why they structured it the way they did — which is not something a scam PAC would do,” because it only draws attention to the unusual setup. And Noti cautioned that there is a tendency for some groups to try to gain attention by invoking Ocasio-Cortez.
“But on the other hand,” Noti added, Ocasio-Cortez’s “explanations don’t make a lot of sense on their face. I read their explanation multiple times, and I still don’t understand. If you want to start a business to provide services to campaigns — many of those are organized as LLC’s, and you sell your services.”
“I read their explanation multiple times, and I still don’t understand.”
Instead, Chaktrabarti “started a PAC, which has legal obligations to report all of is incoming and outgoing money, and then used the PAC to disperse its funds to the LLC,” Noti said.