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DOJ should consider ‘criminal investigation’ into Ocasio-Cortez and top aide, says former FEC commissioner
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“We don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules anymore,” freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) declared this month during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
However, a former Federal Elections Commission (FEC) official begs to differ. Ex-FEC commissioner Hans von Spakovsky says there’s “enough evidence” to justify a “criminal investigation” into whether the New York congresswoman broke campaign finance laws.
“There seems to be enough evidence here to justify opening a criminal investigation,” Spakovsky explained Sunday in a Fox News op-ed, noting that criminal violations can be punished with up to five years in jail.
An FEC complaint charges Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, tech millionaire and socialist Saikat Chakrabarti with funneling over $1 million in political donations into a pair of private companies. The conservative National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed the complaint on March 4 alleging that AOC and her staff “orchestrated an extensive operation to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign spending during the 2018 campaign, in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended.”
Starting in 2016, Chakrabarti founded two political action committees, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, and raised over $3 million to bankroll the radical left. In what experts call a highly unusual arrangement, Chakrabarti then funneled around $1 million from the PACs into a pair of affiliated shell companies which were established, it would appear, to skirt FEC reporting requiring and obscure how donations were spent.
“Is the New York congresswoman – who claims to be an honest and upstanding crusader for good government and transparency – really a hypocrite who improperly hid her own campaign spending in a complex maze of fundraising groups?” Spakovsky asked.
Regulations limit PAC contributions to $5,000 per candidate, and the committee must disclose how the money was spent and to whom it was donated. Private businesses, however, are not subject to these scrupulous requirements.
“It’s a really weird situation,” said Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC chairman. “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.”
Spakovsky, who is now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, believes there is enough more than enough incriminating evidence to move forward with official investigations. “As a former FEC commissioner who has studied the complaint against Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti, I have concluded that there is unquestionably more than enough evidence to justify the FEC opening a civil investigation,” he wrote.
“And there’s also enough evidence for the U.S. Justice Department to seriously consider opening a criminal investigation,” he added.
Ocasio-Cortez could find herself running afoul of FEC laws if investigators determine that her campaign and Chakrabarti’s PACs were secretly operating in tandem. AOC could be charged with receiving excessive campaign contributions for failing to inform federal election officials that she and Chakrabarti had a controlling stake in Justice Democrats.
“If someone gave Ocasio-Cortez a $2,700 contribution and then gave another contribution to either of the other two PACS that Ocasio-Cortez and/or Chakrabarti were running, her campaign violated federal law by receiving and keeping a contribution above the legal limit,” Spakovsky elaborated.
FEC must decide
Currently, the FEC board consists of four commissioners: two Republicans, one Democrat and one Independent, and all four will need to vote yes on proceeding in order to start a civil investigation. Based on the evidence already available, Spakovsky believes that these officials should elect to open up an investigation AOC’s campaign.
“We don’t know what further investigation will find,” he wrote. “But it is clear an investigation is needed to determine if Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti broke the law.”
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