A former commissioner for the Federal Election Commission believes jail time is possible for freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., because of her control of a political action committee while running an election campaign.
The Daily Caller spoke with former FEC commissioner Brad Smithe about revelations that Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff, Saikat Chaikrabarti, controlled the Justice Democrats PAC beginning in December 2017.
The Daily Caller said the information comes from archived copies of the group’s website.
And the two apparently retain their control, according to corporate filings.
“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,'” Smith told the news organization.
It’s because 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,” the report said.
Former FEC commissioner Hans von Spakovsky told the Daily Caller News Foundation that “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.”
Smith said a complaint likely would trigger an investigation, and that “could potentially result in jail time for Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff, Chakrabarti.”
Such an arrangement would be “blatant abuse” of the rules, said Republican election attorney Charlie Spies.
“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,” said Smith. “I don’t really see any way out of it.”
The Daily Caller said the website itself said that from December 2017 until after Ocasio-Cortez was a primary victor, she and Shakrabarti held “legal control.” The PAC took in $4.6 million.
According to federal election law, political committees are linked if they’re run by the same people
Smith said he didn’t know how the FEC could decide not to investigate a complaint over the issue.
“We’ve even got their own statement on their website that they control the organization. I don’t see how you could avoid an investigation on that.”
The law allows a maximum donation of $2,700 to her campaign and the PAC, with a possible five-year prison term for those who knowingly and willfully collect $25,000 or more in excess campaign contributions in a year.
“If this were determined to be knowing and willful, they could be facing jail time,” Smith told the Daily Caller. “Even if it’s not knowing and willful, it would be a clear civil violation of the act, which would require disgorgement of the contributions and civil penalties.
“I think they’ve got some real issues here.”
The report said records show Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti appeared to have controlled, legally, the Justice Democrats group for much of her campaign.
WND reported Monday that contrary to her pledges to increase transparency and reduce “dark money” in politics, her chief of staff funneled more than $1 million in political donations into two of his own private companies.
That’s from one complaint already filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The companies owned by Chakrabarti appear to have been established for the sole purpose of hiding how the political donations were used, the Washington Examiner reported.
The complaint, filed by the watchdog National Legal and Policy Center, charges the arrangement violated reporting requirements and possibly the $5,000 limit on contributions from federal PACs to candidates.
In the absence of reporting to the FEC, the money could have been pocketed or used to pay for off-the-books campaign operations, argues the complaint, which names Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti as respondents.
“It appears Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her associates ran an off-the-books operation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thus violating the foundation of all campaign finance laws: transparency,” said Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project.