Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and her millionaire chief of staff have been quietly removed from the board of the left-wing activist group Justice Democrats. The move comes after Ocasio-Cortez and Saikat Chakrabarti were hit with legal and ethical questions regarding their majority control of the political action committee.
The pair were officially de-listed from the Justice Democrats board on March 15, according to corporate documents from the Washington, D.C.-based Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti could face significant civil penalties and even jail time if investigators determine that they hid their majority stake with the PAC to help win the 2018 midterm election.
Kicked off the board
A recent complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission alleges 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.” Chakrabarti, a tech millionaire and socialist, is accused of funneling over $1 million in political donations from Justice Democrats and into a pair of private companies to benefit Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.
The left-wing firebrand and her chief of staff obtained majority control of the PAC sometime around December 2017, and only relinquished control of the board in June 2018, although Ocasio-Cortez was kept on as an “entity governor” until last week. Attorneys for the congresswoman previously maintained that she was removed from the board eight months ago.
Just before the 2018 primary, when Ocasio-Cortez unseated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, the Justice Democrats website showed that Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti held “legal control” of the PAC. Present-day documents still show that they are members of the PAC’s 3-person board.
The Democratic duo appears to have used the PAC and associated LLC to get around rigorous reporting standards established by the FEC. Normally, PAC contributions are limited to $5,000 per candidate, but Chakrabarti may have funneled donations to two shell companies to get around these limits.
“It’s a really weird situation,” said former FEC chairman Bradley A. Smith. “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.”
“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,” explained Hans von Spakovsky, a former FEC commissioner.
Big trouble for AOC
For the pair to face legal consequences, prosecutors would have to prove they “knowingly and willfully withheld their ties between the campaign and the political action committee from the FEC to bypass campaign contribution limits,” Smith explained.
However, if investigators can make this case, Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti could face serious consequences for their actions, including jail time. “If the facts as alleged are true, and a candidate had control over a PAC that was working to get that candidate elected, then that candidate is potentially in very big trouble and may have engaged in multiple violations of federal campaign finance law, including receiving excessive contributions,” Spakovsky said.
“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.
Only time will tell. But based on other amateurish mistakes from the youngest congresswoman ever elected, the odds don’t appear to be in Ocasio-Cortez’s favor.