- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not immune to the taint of money in politics.

During her long-shot run for Congress, a political action committee backing her campaign was putting cash in the pocket of her live-in boyfriend, Riley Roberts.

The payments totaling $6,000 were made by Brand New Congress PAC, one of the political upstart organizations co-founded by Silicon Valley tech millionaire Saikat Chakrabarti, who is now chief of staff for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

At the same time Mr. Roberts, a 29-year-old web developer, was being paid as a “marketing consultant” for the PAC, the Ocasio-Cortez campaign was paying the organization’s corporate arm, Brand New Congress LLC, for strategic consulting.

The cash flow in this cozy relationship was first reported by GOP political consultant Luke Thompson on Medium.

Asked about the payments, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez focused on the legal entities handing the cash.

“He’s not on my payroll. They were not working for me and they are two separate entities here,” she told The Washington Times. “This is the difference between an LLC and a PAC.”

In other words, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s explanation for the apparent shell game was to say, “Keep your eyes on the shells.”

The appearance that she is involved in a self-dealing arrangement is particularly troublesome for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez because the New York Democrat presents herself as a working-class champion against the corrupting influence of corporate money and special interests.

The Washington-based Coolidge Reagan Foundation last week filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, her campaign and Brand New Congress PAC orchestrated pass-through payments to Mr. Roberts.

“The timing and amounts of these transactions, the use of two affiliated entities as intermediaries, the vague and amorphous nature of the services Riley ostensibly provided, the magnitude of these transactions compared to both the limited funds the campaign had raised at the time and the total amount of its expenditures, and the romantic relationship between Ocasio-Cortez and Riley collectively establish reason to believe these transactions may have violated campaign finance law,” said the complaint.

Mr. Chakrabarti launched Brand New Congress PAC to raise and bundle campaign contributions for non-career politicians such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. He set up Brand New Congress LLC as a for-hire, ready-made campaign organization for the PAC and its newbie candidates.

The key difference is that a PAC must disclose contributions and expenditures the same as a candidate campaign. LLCs don’t have to report or itemize their spending.

Brand New Congress PAC paid Brand New Congress LLC about $261,000 for “strategic consulting” during the 2018 cycle, accounting for the PAC’s 10 largest expenditures, according to filings to the Federal Election Commission.

The PAC’s 11th and 12th largest payouts went to Mr. Roberts.

Meanwhile, the Ocasio-Cortez campaign was paying Brand New Congress LLC for campaign for “strategic consulting.”

Her campaign paid $8,172 to the Brand New Congress LLC on July 26, 2017. Brand New Congress PAC then paid Mr. Roberts $3,000 on Aug. 9.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign next paid $6,191 to the PAC on Aug. 27. The LLC followed up with another $3,000 payment to Mr. Roberts on Sept. 29.

The payments came at a time when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign suffered from anemic fundraising and was racking up substantial debt.

“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,” Mr. Thompson wrote on Medium.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, said Mr. Roberts’ pay should be viewed in the context of widespread campaign infractions and systemic problems with the lack of restrictions on PAC money for personal use.

“The key question to ask, and answer, is whether there was any expectation from the AOC campaign that Roberts would be hired and, if so, what were the services rendered,” he said. “The relationships involved, timing of the payments, and the amounts exchanged raise questions, but without more information it is difficult to determine if any campaign law violation occurred.”

Mr. Chakrabarti did not respond to The Times’ questions about how Mr. Roberts was hired, whether the job was advertised and when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez learned that her boyfriend was working for the PAC.

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