Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)’s chief of staff helped establish two political action committees that paid a company he ran more than $1 million in 2016 and 2017, federal campaign finance records show.
Brand New Congress LLC, the company owned by Saikat Chakrabarti, was also paid $18,880 for strategic consulting by Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign in 2017, records show. The following year, he worked as a volunteer to manage her campaign, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The arrangement, first reported by conservative outlets, left hidden who ultimately profited from the payments — a sharp juxtaposition with Ocasio-Cortez’s calls for transparency in politics. She has called dark money “the enemy to democracy.”
The money that flowed to her chief of staff’s company have subjected the first-term congresswoman to critics’ charges of hypocrisy. On Monday, a conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the PACs failed to properly disclose their spending.
David Mitrani, attorney for the PACs, the LLC and Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, said in a statement Tuesday that all four entities “fully complied with the law and the highest ethical standards.”
He said that Chakrabarti never received any salary or profit from the company, the PACs or the campaign.
“There is no violation” of campaign finance law, Ocasio-Cortez told Fox News on Tuesday. It is unclear whether she had knowledge of the payments to Chakrabarti’s company.
Limited-liability companies, which in some states are not required to disclose details about their owners or spending, have played an increasing role in politics in recent years. Critics say such entities allow both donors and vendors to mask their activities, making it difficult for the public to trace who is giving to campaigns and profiting from them.
Brand New Congress LLC, initially called Brand New Campaign LLC, was formed by Chakrabarti to serve as a “campaign in a box, a one-stop vendor for communications, field, online organizing, fundraising and the like,” Mitrani said in his statement.
Among its clients were two PACs — Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress — which worked to recruit progressive and nontraditional candidates to run for Congress, he said.
Chakrabarti identifies himself as a co-founder of both groups on his LinkedIn page.
In 2016 and 2017, the two PACs reported paying the LLC $1.07 million, records show.
Campaign finance experts said the relationship between Chakrabarti’s PACs and the limited-liability company obfuscated who received the payments — and raised questions about who benefited.
“In a normal situation, if all you saw was a PAC that disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to an affiliated entity to pay the salaries of people who were really working for the PAC, that looks like . . . a PAC that takes in money to engage in political activity but is actually enriching its owners,” said Adav Noti, former Federal Election Commission lawyer who is now chief of staff of the Campaign Legal Center, a group that advocates for greater transparency in campaign finance.
In his statement, Mitrani said that the PACs did not disclose information about the ultimate recipients of the money because they were not required to do so by the FEC.
“If the PACs and campaigns were required to provide additional information on subvendor payments made by Brand New Congress LLC, it would have done so,” he wrote.
He provided a January 2017 contract between the Justice Democrats PAC and the LLC showing that the company charged the PAC a monthly retainer fee of $60,000. The fee was to pay employees, subcontractors and agents, according to the contract.
The contract shows that the primary consultants for the project were Chakrabarti; Nasim Thompson, then the LLC’s chief operating officer; and Corbin Trent, a consultant who is now a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to an entity owned by Rep. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)’s chief of staff as a limited-liability corporation. In fact, it is a limited-liability company.