New FEC complaint filed against AOC's Chief of Staff

The Washington Examiner reports that an FEC complaint has been filed today against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Chief of Staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, questioning the financial arrangements between two PACs and two LLCs that he controls.

The complaint names Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti as respondents. It asks the FEC to investigate and audit the two PACs, saying they were engaged in an “an elaborate scheme to avoid proper disclosure of campaign expenditures.”

Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project, said: “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.”

Chakrabarti set up two PACs, one called Brand New Congress and another called Justice Democrats. Alongside those PACs were two LLCs, Brand New Campaign LLC and Brand New Congress LLC. Money was raised by the PACs and then transferred to the LLCs which were not required by law to designate who received the money. In all, hundreds of thousands of dollars were transferred between the PACs and the LLCs. Campaign finance experts questioned by the Examiner found the arrangement odd:

Adav Noti, the senior director of the Campaign Legal Center and a former FEC lawyer, said the arrangement was highly unusual and seemed intended to obscure the destination of the funds.

“None of that makes any sense,” said Noti. “I can’t even begin to disentangle that. They’re either confused or they’re trying to conceal something.”…

Bradley A. Smith, a former chairman of the FEC, said he has never seen such an arrangement. “It’s a really weird situation,” he said. “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. You might say from a campaign finance angle that the LLC was essentially operating as an unregistered committee.”

Chakrabarti wouldn’t comment for the story so we don’t have his side of this yet. Some of the ground this FEC complaint covers was brought up in an investigation of payments made to AOC’s boyfriend. During her campaign, AOC was paying Chakrabarti’s Brave New Congress LLC for strategic consulting services. As she was sending checks to the LLC, Brave New Congress PAC was hiring her boyfriend Riley Roberts as its top consultant. Roberts was living with AOC in New York at the time and it’s not clear what services he was providing the PAC. A separate group filed an FEC complaint about the payments to AOC’s boyfriend.

“The timing and amounts of these transactions, the use of two affiliated entities as intermediaries, the vague and amorphous nature of the services Riley ostensibly provided, the magnitude of these transactions compared to both the limited funds the campaign had raised at the time . . . and the romantic relationship . . . collectively establish reason to believe these transactions may have violated campaign finance law,” reads an FEC complaint filed last week by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation.

AOC’s spokesman seems to be emphasizing that Chakrabarti hasn’t controlled the PACs since taking his current job as her Chief of Staff.

“We believe that complaint is politically motivated, basically intended to create a political story,” Trent said, adding that Chakrabarti was no longer involved with the groups he founded when he became AOC’s campaign manager in February 2018.

We’ll have to wait and see what the FEC makes of these complaints.