Last week, Twitter locked Luke Thompson’s account after he divulged public information of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s boyfriend Riley Roberts. her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti joined in and next thing you know…trolls galore.

Thompson had a legitimate question: Why does Riley have a house.gov email address? Since he had time on his hands with his suspension, Thompson did some digging and found the story goes deeper than he thought.

Thompson wrote:

So I went to the FEC, did a little searching, and discovered that, lo and behold, there’s more to the story. Now, during the original kerfuffle, some folks noticed that AOC’s campaign had paid Roberts $1,750. That’s not quite what transpired. Roberts was “paid” only as a means of keeping accounting in order. In the first half of 2018, Roberts did some free work for the campaign. That work got put on the books as an in-kind contribution and then discharged as an expenditure for accounting purposes. That’s perfectly normal. It’s a way to keep people from circumventing federal contribution caps by providing discounted or free services.

But that’s not the only political work Roberts ostensibly did during the cycle. Nor would it be the first time Chakrabarti had hired Roberts. He’s done so at least once before, in 2017, although it’s unlikely Roberts was hired to do any actual work in that case.

At the beginning of 2017, Chakrabarti created Brand New Congress, an organization dedicated to shaking things up in Democratic primaries. It’s a rather ingenious organization, but one that dwells in a legal gray-area as far as campaign finance law is concerned. It facilitates campaigns on shoestring budgets by providing a single clearinghouse for campaign services, generally filed under the banner of “strategic consulting”. But, as a result, it limits the meaningfulness of FEC disclosures by those campaigns. Additionally, it means that Brand New Congress, unlike most PACs, spends most of its budget on overhead and makes relatively few actual contributions to candidates.

Additionally, Brand New Congress is not one thing, but rather two. It’s a nonqualified political action committee — a PAC — that can raise and bundle campaign contributions for candidates. Donations and expenditures from PACs, like those to and by candidates, are publicly disclosed. However, Brand New Congress is also a LLC, owned by Chakrabarti, that provides campaign services to candidates to help lower the barriers to entry. LLCs do not have to disclose or itemize their spending.

Thompson explained that the PAC came into existence in January of 2017. A month later it joined forces with Justice Democrats:

Over the course of the cycle, Justice Democrats would pay Brand New Congress LLC $605,849.12. They would also share an address. In May, Brand New Congress changed the address for its custodian of records to 714 South Gay Street in Knoxville, TN. In August, it switched addresses again, but in December of 2017, Justice Democrats registered at the address. AOC also used the Knoxville address in her first candidate filing, which incorrectly registered her to run in New York’s 15th Congressional District.

Five days later, she switched to the 14th district and added her campaign committee, registered to an address in the Bronx. Two months after that, the campaign committee’s address was changed to 714 South Gay Street as well.

Ocasio-Cortez touted her hatred of PAC money and claimed she ran her campaign without the help of those evil PACs. Yet Thompson found that she paid Brand New Congress $18,880.14 for strategic consulting. Then the PAC paid Riley as a marketing consultant even though he has no experience.

He assumes it’s because Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign was running out of money:

At the beginning of October, more than four months into her campaign, AOC’s fundraising had been anemic. Excluding an in-kind contribution from Chakrabarti, she’d raised only $3,032.75 but had already spent $27,591.27 — more than half of which she’d paid to Chakrabarti’s Brand New Congress LLC. By the end of 2017 she’d spent $37,249.94 but raised only $8,361.03. That’s a lot of money to stick on a credit card. Since no loans are recorded on her campaign books, presumably either AOC or Roberts was fronting the necessary cash.

It looks to me like Chakrabarti was effectively reimbursing AOC for a third of her expenses with Brand New Congress LLC, perhaps so that she would stay in the race despite her mounting debt.

The shadiness of the whole business may also explain why Roberts lists his residence as Arizona for the expenditure, rather than New York. Roberts is from Arizona, but was living in New York with AOC. His other contributions to her campaign, both cash and in-kind, list New York as his residence.

Regardless of whether or not Roberts was officially AOC’s spouse at that time, it seems probable Chakrabarti was reimbursing her for her campaign expenses off-books. Brand New Congress PAC simply served as a pass-through to do so.

In return, Ocasio-Cortez hired Chakrabarti as her chief of staff:

Taking money from a rich guy, trying to hide it by passing it through a PAC, and then giving her benefactor a government job.

That’s definitely unethical and potentially illegal. Chakrabarti may have made an illegal campaign contribution in excess of federal limits. Regardless, it raises questions about Chakrabarti’s hiring as AOC’s Chief of Staff after her election. Maybe add that to your next lightning round, Congresswoman.

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