October 16, 2023

USA: FEC 2-Year Investigation Finds AOC And Her Former Chief Of Staff DID NOT 'Properly' Disclose At Least $1 MILLION In Campaign Expenses BUT FEC Panel Votes To DISMISS Watchdog Complaint.

The Daily Mail, UK
written by Ronny Reyes
Saturday April 2, 2022

The Federal Election Commission's investigation into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign found that it and her former chief of staff did not 'properly' disclose about $1 million in expenses - but a bipartisan panel voted to give them a pass, according to filings.

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a conservative watchdog group, had alleged in 2019 that Ocasio-Cortez's former chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, funneled more than $1 million in contributions to Democrats through two PACs he controlled during her run for Congress in 2018.

While the FEC found that Chakrabarti did, in fact, fail to 'properly disclose the purpose of the disbursements' made to the Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats PACs, a panel of three Democrats and three Republicans decided to dismiss the NLPC's complaint, according to filings made public this week.

The investigation ultimately found that any cash transfers from the two PACs that appeared to violate the $5,000 contribution limit to federal candidates, including one made to Ocasio-Cortez, were not accepted and returned.

According to the FEC's investigation, Ocasio-Cortez's campaign received a $5,650 contribution in 2018, but the campaign, like others who received excessive gifts, refunded the cash.

The details of the FEC's decision, however, come more than 30 days after it closed the matter on February 27, in what the NLPC claimed was an effort to avoid a legal challenge by the group, which had filed its charges against the FEC last month.

Paul Kamenar, NLPC counsel, slammed the FEC for its decision, telling the New York Post: 'The FEC has gone after a whole host of people whose violations are dwarfed by the scale of this scheme. It appears to be not prosecutorial discretion, but prosecutorial favoritism.'

NLPC Chair Peter Flaherty said he received a letter from the FEC in February stating that the agency had dismissed the group's complaint and closed the case.

The watchdog group filed a lawsuit against the FEC last Friday for its dismissal of the case and for failing to provide a proper explanation within 30 days of reaching its decision.

Normally a suit would be filed after the details of the case were disclosed, allowing only a 30-day window for the decision to be challenged, but because the FEC waited for more than a month to disclose the details, the FEC filed their suit last week.

'It was highly irregular for the FEC to release its statement of reasons after the deadline for us to file suit,' Tom Anderson, director of the NLPC's Government Integrity Project, told the Post.

Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly denied any allegations of violating campaign finance laws.

Chakrabarti now works as president of New Consensus, a think tank based in Silicon Valley.

He helped found both the Brand New Congress PAC and Justice Democrats, with the goal of bringing new and progressive members like Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic socialist, to Congress.

After starting Brand New Congress, he formed a Delaware-based LLC, Brand New Campaign LLC. Shifting the funds avoided detailed disclosure requirements of itemized expenses.

Among those who received disbursements from Brand New Congress LLC in 2018 were Democratic congressional candidates Adrienne Bell, of Texas; Anthony Clark, of Illinois; Chardo Richardson, of Florida; Ryan Stone, of Texas; U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, of Missouri; Hector Morales, of Texas; Michael Hepburn, of Florida; Houston City Councilwoman Letitia Plummer, of Texas; Paula Swearengin, of West Virginia; Paul Perry, of Pennsylvania; Robert Ryerse, of Arkansas, and Sarah Smith, of Washington, according to the filings.

Ocasio-Cortez's office and Chakrabarti did not immediately return DailyMail.com's request for comment.
Mr Reagan published March 8, 2019: The Brains Behind AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Washington Examiner
written by Elizabeth Faddis, Breaking News Reporter
Sunday April 3, 2022

The campaign of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her former chief of staff were found to have failed to report roughly $1 million in expenses.

The Federal Election Commission released filings on Thursday from a two-year investigation surrounding allegations that Ocasio-Cortez's former chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, funneled $1 million through two political action committees, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, according to the New York Post. Despite the findings, the FEC voted to dismiss a complaint lodged against Ocasio-Cortez by the National Legal and Policy Center in March 2019.

"The FEC has gone after a whole host of people whose violations are dwarfed by the scale of this scheme," Paul Kamenar, the attorney for the NLPC, said in a statement to the outlet. "It appears to be not prosecutorial discretion, but prosecutorial favoritism."

The NLPC's complaint claims that Chakrabarti funneled the money through two political action committees into two organizations, according to the outlet. The money transferred might have been in violation of the $5,000 limit for donations to federal candidates, according to the complaint.

The investigation from the FEC found that the two PACs "did not properly disclose the purpose of the disbursements" to the shell companies, according to the outlet.

In response to the findings, the NLPC filed a lawsuit against the federal election integrity organization for failing to provide a reason for dismissing its complaint, according to the outlet.

"It was highly irregular for the FEC to release its statement of reasons after the deadline for us to file suit," Tom Anderson, the director for the NLPC's Government Integrity Project, told the outlet.

The FEC's findings come more than 30 days after the agency voted to dismiss the complaint against Ocasio-Cortez, according to the outlet.

The Washington Examiner reached out to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a statement but did not receive a response back.
The Washington Examiner
written by Alana Goodman, Investigative Political Reporter
Monday March 4, 2019

Two political action committees founded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s top aide funneled over $1 million in political donations into two of his own private companies, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday.

The cash transfers from the PACs — overseen by Saikat Chakrabarti, the freshman socialist Democrat's chief of staff — run counter to her pledges to increase transparency and reduce the influence of "dark money" in politics.

Chakrabarti's companies appear to have been set up for the sole purpose of obscuring how the political donations were used.

The arrangement skirted reporting requirements and may have violated the $5,000 limit on contributions from federal PACs to candidates, according to the complaint filed by the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group.

Campaign finance attorneys described the arrangement as “really weird” and an indication "there’s something amiss." They said there was no way of telling where the political donations went — meaning they could have been pocketed or used by the company to pay for off-the-books campaign operations.

PACs are required to disclose how and when funds are spent, including for expenditures such as advertisements, fundraising emails, donations to candidates, and payments for events and to vendors.

The private companies to which Chakrabarti transferred the money from the PACs are not subject to these requirements.

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, 33, is a Harvard graduate and technology entrepreneur who became an organizer for Bernie Sanders during the socialist's 2016 presidential campaign.

He founded a PAC called Brand New Congress in 2016 and another called Justice Democrats in 2017, with the stated goal of helping elect progressive candidates to Congress. One of those candidates was Ocasio-Cortez, who, last November, age 29, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

According to the Brand New Congress website, the PAC would build a "unified campaign" infrastructure including fundraising, organizing, rallies, and advertising progressive congressional candidates across the country could "plug into," saving the individual campaigns time and money.

"Our idea is really to run a single unified presidential-style campaign that is going to look a lot like the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Chakrabarti in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in May 2016. "The campaign infrastructure and fundraising is set aside from the campaigning."

In 2016 and 2017, Chakrabarti’s PACs raised about $3.3 million for the project, primarily from small donors. During this time, the committees transferred over $1 million to two shell companies controlled by Chakrabarti with names similar to one of the PACs, Brand New Campaign LLC and Brand New Congress LLC, according to federal election filings.

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. They were sent to an apartment address listed for Chakrabarti in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan.

In 2017, Brand New Congress PAC transferred another $240,000 to Brand New Congress LLC, also for "strategic consulting." Another PAC co-founded by Chakrabarti that year, Justice Democrats, transferred an additional $605,000 to Brand New Congress LLC in 2017.

Brand New Congress LLC does not appear to be registered in any state, according to state government records available online. It is unclear where or when it was incorporated.

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."

Noti said it would be simpler to set up a consulting company and work directly with campaigns to provide services for a fee rather than creating a federal PAC and sending the money to a company controlled by the same person.

"It does seem like there's something amiss. I can only think of really two likely possibilities for this sort of pattern of disbursements," said 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."

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 declined to comment on the FEC complaint or provide details about his companies’ financial activities. Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, declined to comment.

Zeynab Day, communications director for the Brand New Congress PAC, said Chakrabarti was not currently affiliated with the group and that it recently went through a "transition period." She referred questions about the LLC to Chakrabarti. “I’m unable to answer any questions about the LLC … I am not informed about them. We are not an affiliated group,” she said.

A spokesperson for Justice Democrats said he did not know why the PAC paid so much money to Chakrabarti’s LLCs. When asked what the Justice Democrats PAC does on a daily basis, he said, “It’s very clear what we do,” but declined to elaborate.

Chakrabarti founded Brand New Congress PAC, in April 2016. According to a statement released by Justice Democrats PAC last May, Chakrabarti "was the only controlling member" of the company Brand New Congress LLC and "took no salary." The statement added: "Saikat is lucky to have a small side business that generates him enough income that he is able to do all of this work as a volunteer."

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