Former FEC Chairman: AOC 'Could Be Facing Jail Time' for Possible Campaign Finance Violation
It looks like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the golden girl of the Democratic Party, might be in some serious trouble, according to a new report from The Daily Caller. According to the report, Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti appear to have been in control of Justice Democrats PAC from December 2017 through her primary campaign victory in June 2018. Justice Democrats PAC donated heavily to her campaign, and that support was crucial for her victory.
If the Federal Election Commission (FEC) finds that the New York Democrat’s campaign operated in affiliation with the PAC, which had raised more than $1.8 million before her June 2018 primary, it would open them up to “massive reporting violations, probably at least some illegal contribution violations exceeding the lawful limits,” former FEC commissioner Brad Smith said.
Ocasio-Cortez never disclosed to the FEC that she and Chakrabarti, who served as her campaign chair, controlled the PAC while it was simultaneously supporting her primary campaign, and former FEC commissioners say the arrangement could lead to multiple campaign finance violations. The group backed 12 Democrats during the 2018 midterms, but Ocasio-Cortez was the only one of those to win her general election.
“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,” former Republican FEC commissioner Hans von Spakovsky told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Brad Smith, a former FEC commissioner, says that if a complaint were to be filed, he thinks “it would trigger a serious investigation,” and potentially result in jail time for Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti.
Republican election attorney Charlie Spies told TheDCNF: “It looks like the campaign and PAC are under common control and the PAC was funding campaign staff and activities as an alter-ego of the campaign committee, which would be a blatant abuse of the PAC rules.”
Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti could face prison if the FEC determines that they knowingly and willfully withheld their ties between the campaign and the political action committee from the FEC to bypass campaign contribution limits, according to Smith.
“At minimum, there’s a lot of smoke there, and if there are really only three board members and she and [Chakrabarti] are two of them, sure looks like you can see the blaze,” Smith, a Republican, told TheDCNF. “I don’t really see any way out of it.”
The website for Justice Democrats PAC indicated that Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti had legal control over the PAC. According to Smith, “The admission makes it open and shut if someone wants to file a complaint with the FEC.”
And if the FEC concludes that Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and Justice Democrats were operating as affiliated committees, “then anyone who contributed over $2,700 total to her campaign and the PAC would have made an excessive contribution,” which is a campaign finance violation, Smith told TheDCNF.
Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and Justice Democrats raised a combined $4.6 million during the 2018 midterm election cycle, FEC records show. There’s a maximum five-year prison sentence for anyone who knowingly and willfully receives a collective $25,000 or more in excessive campaign contributions in a single calendar year.
Justice Democrats PAC supported other Democrats in 2018, but only Ocasio-Cortez won her election. Ocasio-Cortez may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but it doesn't take an expert in campaign finance law to understand that running a PAC to circumvent campaign contribution limits is bad stuff. At best, Ocasio-Cortez could play dumb, but that won't absolve her of accountability.
According to Smith, even if Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti didn’t knowingly and willfully run the PAC to circumvent campaign contribution limits, “it would be a clear civil violation of the act, which would require disgorgement of the contributions and civil penalties.” Smith added, “I think they’ve got some real issues here.” Chakrabarti has also been accused of funneling more than $1 million from two PACs, including Justice Democrats PAC, to his own companies.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis