by WorldTribune Staff, August 4, 2019
Federal investigators are looking into possible campaign finance misdeeds by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff who suddenly resigned on Aug. 2, a report said.
The investigation centers on two political action committees (PACs) founded by Saikat Chakrabarti, the New York Post reported on Aug. 3.
The Post noted that Chakrabarti, “who masterminded Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and steered her proposed Green New Deal, had caused uproar in the halls of Congress with a series of combative tweets that contributed to a rift between his rookie boss and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
Chakrabarti’s sudden resignation as AOC’s chief of staff comes not long after he had angered many Democrats when, in a Twitter post last month, he compared moderate Democrats to southern segregationists.
“Instead of ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal,’ let’s call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the ‘New Southern Democrats,’ ” Chakrabarti tweeted. “They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.”
In late June, Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas voted for a bipartisan bill to appropriate money to government operations on the southern border. Chakrabarti said of Davids: “Her votes are showing her to enable a racist system.”
That drew a sharp rebuke from the official House Democrats’ Twitter account, which is managed by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York: “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.”
The two PACs, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, were both set up by Chakrabarti to support progressive candidates across the country.
According to Federal Election Commission filings. the PACs funneled more than $1 million in political donations into two private companies that Chakrabarti also incorporated and controlled.
“While PACs must follow stringent federal rules on disclosure of spending and fundraising, private companies are not subject to the same transparency,” the Post noted.
The complaint filed by the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group based in Virginia, alleged that the LLCs appeared to have been set up to obscure federal reporting requirements.
Federal authorities are also looking at new salary rules imposed by Ocasio-Cortez when she took office earlier this year, and whether they were put in place to allow Chakrabarti to dodge public financial-disclosure rules, sources told the Post.
Although Ocasio-Cortez raised the salaries of junior staffers in her office to just over $52,000 a year, Chakrabarti took a massive pay cut. The Harvard graduate and tech millionaire agreed to an annual salary of $80,000 — far less than the $146,830 average pay for his position.
Because his salary was less than $126,000, congressional rules exempted the chief of staff from having to disclose his outside income.
In 2016 and 2017, the PACs set up by Chakrabarti raised about $3.3 million, mostly from small donors. A third of the cash was transferred to two private companies whose names are similar to one of the PACs — Brand New Congress LLC and Brand New Campaign LLC — federal campaign filings show.
In March, when the FEC complaints were filed, a lawyer for the PACs, the LLCs and the Ocasio-Cortez campaign told the Washington Post that the arrangement “fully complied with the law and the highest ethical standards” and that Chakrabarti never profited from any of the political entities he formed.
The PACs may also have violated the $5,000 limit on contributions from federal PACs to candidates, according to the complaint.