Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) went viral for criticizing the very type of opaque donations that she may have used to fund her group, Justice Democrats, according to a report by the Washington Examiner.
Justice Democrats is a group of left-wing activists who are working to create a “new type of Democratic majority in Congress.” The group backed several Democratic candidates that primaried more establishment Democrats — including Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) in the 2018 primary season.
While Ocasio-Cortez benefited from the activism of Justice Democrats during the start of her political career, she probably knew they were going to be of service considering she was one of the founding board members.
The congresswoman, along with her current chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, started Justice Democrats and based the operation in Knoxville, Tennessee, a move that has been criticized as an apparent attempt to dodge high taxes in places like New York, as IJR previously reported.
Since she entered office in January, Ocasio-Cortez has had many viral moments picking apart the campaign finance system in the United States as part of her push for the House to pass HR 1, a massive bill focused on campaign finance reform and voter accessibility.
In one of her most viewed moments, Ocasio-Cortez claimed the campaign finance system is “fundamentally broken.”
Watch Ocasio-Cortez criticize the campaign finance system:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dissects America's 'fundamentally broken' campaign finance laws pic.twitter.com/h6a3q8c9v6
— The Guardian (@guardian) February 8, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez specifically criticized the fact that it is not illegal to have a corporate PAC fund a campaign, but the report from the Examiner shows that she may have used those same laws to pour money into the Justice Democrats’ PAC to fund campaigns.
The report from the Examiner alleges that “soft money” was poured into a side committee related to the Justice Democrats’ PAC to fund campaigns rather than donations directly to the candidates, which are much more transparent.
“Soft money” isn’t designed to go to a specific candidate. Rather, it’s designed to help a political party generally increase awareness and voter turnout. These types of donations do not face the same type of strict regulations that direct candidate contributions do.
While the Justice Democrats was a federally recognized PAC and subject to donations caps under Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations, Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti also spun off a 527 group they referred to as “Justice Democrats Non-Federal.” A 527 group is not regulated by the FEC, and the money from this type of group is largely considered to be “soft money” because it isn’t regulated.
In November 2017, Justice Democrats founder Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks announced that Justice Democrats merged with Americans for All of Us to form a super PAC. Super PACs do not have a limit on donations and have been widely criticized by champions of campaign finance reform, including Ocasio-Cortez, since the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United.
According to the Examiner, Americans for All of Us dumped $10,132 into Justice Democrats’ 527 group after the merger, though Justice Democrats don’t acknowledge the existence of this 527 group on its website.
“Representative Ocasio-Cortez talks a good game but her involvement with these shadowy entities show she’s more a creature of dark money rather than a crusader for transparency and accountability,” Tom Anderson, the director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s (NLPC) Government Integrity Project, told the Examiner.
The NLPC is also responsible for an FEC complaint against Chakrabarti for his shady use of his LLC to allegedly funnel money into PACs that were used to benefit candidates. In the complaint, the NLPC alleges that Chakrabarti funneled nearly $1 million between his LLC and PACs that he was running prior to becoming Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, as IJR previously reported.
This complaint is accompanied by two other ethics complaints from the Coolidge Reagan Foundation, a conservative First Amendment group, that question Ocasio-Cortez’s professional relationship with her boyfriend, Riley Roberts.
In an FEC complaint, the Coolidge Reagan Foundation called for an investigation into payments made from Chakrabarti’s PAC to Roberts. In an Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) complaint, the Coolidge Reagan Foundation questioned Ocasio-Cortez’s office after it became clear that Roberts was given an official mail.house.gov email address, which would be a breach of congressional ethics policies.
Although Ocasio-Cortez may be considered a champion of campaign finance reforms after a few viral videos, it looks as though she’s embraced some of the current rules when it comes to her own campaigns.