Ever since President Trump targeted them in a tweet, “The Squad” has been the most talked about group of legislators in the world.They have been the focus of glowing profiles, lengthy interviews, and generally fawning news coverage.
Never once mentioned in any of that coverage, though, is the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar each face serious allegations of wrongdoing—from campaign finance violations, to slush funds, to tax and even marriage fraud.
In late February, Ocasio-Cortez was hit with a Federal Election Commission complaint for allegedly using an intermediary to cover up payments her campaign made to her live-in boyfriend, Riley Roberts.
Saikat Chakrabati, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff and campaign manager, established Brand New Congress LLC in 2016 with the aim of electing young, radical leftists to the House of Representatives.Ocasio-Cortez was his star recruit.
But according to the FEC complaint, Chakrabati used Brand New Congress’ political action committee to funnel payments from Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign to her boyfriend without having to report them as campaign expenses.
On August 9, 2017, Brand New Congress PAC paid Ocasio-Cortez’s boyfriend, Riley Roberts, $3,000. The description of the payment specifies only “marketing consultant.” Less than three weeks later, on August 27th, 2017, Cortez’s campaign committee paid Brand New Congress LLC $6,191.32 for “strategic consulting.” The following month, Brand New Congress PAC paid Cortez’s boyfriend, Roberts, another $3,000, again with the description “marketing consultant.” Thus, over the span of a little more than a month, Cortez’s campaign committee paid just over $6,000 to Brand New Congress PAC, while its affiliated LLC turned around and paid her boyfriend $6,000.
Ocasio-Cortez subsequently hired Chakrabarti, who created the entities which conducted these transactions and facilitated the transfer of Ocasio-Cortez’s official campaign funds to her boyfriend, as the Chief of Staff of her congressional office.
This is potentially illegal, as 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(1) expressly provides that campaign contributions “shall not be convertedby any person to personal use.”
In a statement following the complaint’s release, Chakrabati decried the allegations, saying that Roberts was paid fair market value for IT services he provided.Be that as it may, the timing of the payments to Roberts from Brand New Congress and from the Ocasio-Cortez campaign to Brand New Congress suggests that the campaign was reimbursing the LLC for payments to the candidate’s boyfriend and thus the candidate herself.
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.
Again, both Chakrabati and Ocasio-Cortez pushed back, claiming that there was no wrongdoing, but they did not answer questions about why money would be transferred from a PAC—whose donations and spending are heavily regulated by the federal government—to an LLC; a private corporation under Chakrabati’s control.
A month later, a third FEC complaint against Brand New Congress alleged that it provided “campaign contributions known as ‘in-kind’ expenditures by only charging candidates for a portion of the total cost of the service.”The complaint claimed that “the company operated at a loss to provide its approved candidates with campaign services on the cheap.”
As FOX News reported, this is potentially illegal “because of a series of 1990s-era FEC Advisory Opinions which essentially explained that goods and services provided to political campaigns must be paid for at fair market value – otherwise they could be considered in-kind contributions.”
It was unclear what Brand New Congress charged for their services, but one of his affiliated PACs, Justice Democrats admitted in 2018 “it was offering services at a rate that would never turn a profit, and that was exactly the point.
“‘[The] goal of creating the LLC was not to make a profit,’ the post read, ‘and as such, we made our prices as low as possible while still satisfying the FEC's requirement that we are charging something reasonable because, again, if we weren't we would essentially be doing heavily discounted work for candidates and that is illegal and immoral since fighting dark money is literally what we want to do.’”
Ironically, the now-defunct LLC seemed to do nothing but funnel dark money to Ocasio-Cortez’s boyfriend and Chakrabati himself.
In early June, the FEC said in a letter to Justice Democrats PAC that it was investigating yet more discrepancies in payments to and from groups Chakrabati controlled.
The group had allegedly helped pay off various congressional candidates’ campaign debts that didn’t actually exist.
“The commission also asked Justice Democrats to explain reimbursements it said it received from seven campaigns that did not correspond with any payments made by the PAC,” TheWashington Examiner reported. “The FEC asked the PAC to explain the discrepancies, request refunds from the campaigns that allegedly received the payments, and update its financial statements, noting that the commission ‘may take further legal action regarding this impermissible activity.’”
Ocasio-Cortez has since resigned from the board of directors of Justice Democrats, but served when the allegedly illegal payments were made.Her chief of staff, Chakrabati, has controlled that PAC and Brand New Congress PAC since their inception.
Has he been using them to turn campaign money into a personal slush fund?The FEC will make a determination in the coming months.For now, though, the allegations against Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabati are something no one in the media seems to want to talk about…even as they talk about Ocasio-Cortez incessantly.