Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has been an outspoken critic of PACs and the influence of money in politics. But how well does she practice what she preaches?
According a Medium post written by podcast host Luke Thompson, Ocasio-Cortez's campaign may have relied on a political action committee to funnel money from a wealthy benefactor to her boyfriend.
In a nutshell
While Ocasio-Cortez's campaign was paying an organization for "strategic consulting," a PAC affiliated with that organization was paying just under a third of that amount to her boyfriend. She would later hire the wealthy founder of this organization to be her chief of staff once she was elected to Congress.
If the payments from the PAC to her boyfriend were meant to keep her campaign afloat, they were $1,000 over the legal limit for PAC donations in a calendar year.
Let's break this down
Ocasio-Cortez's current chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, formed an organization called Brand New Congress LLC in 2017. According to Chakrabarti, the purpose of Brand New Congress was to help provide a campaign framework for "non-career politicians" who normally might struggle to build an infrastructure from the ground up.
The group is also closely tied to another PAC called Justice Democrats, founded by Chakrabarti and Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks.
According to FEC filings accessed by TheBlaze, Ocasio-Cortez's campaign paid Justice Democrats $2,626.32 on Nov. 1, 2017, for "strategic consulting." Justice Democrats donated $5,000 to her campaign, according to Open Secrets.
Her campaign also paid Brand New Congress LLC a total of $18,880.14 in three payments for "strategic consulting"
While her campaign was paying Brand New Congress's LLC, Ocasio-Cortez's boyfriend was paid a total of $6,000 in two equal payments over a two-month period by Brand New Congress's PAC for allegedly being the PAC's only marketing consultant.
According to a glowing profile by Marie Claire from Jan. 15, Riley Roberts is a web developer who worked as "head of marketing at HomeBinder.com, which helps people manage the maintenance on their homes. He also works as a consultant to help tech startups grow revenue using marketing and development." Not necessarily the type of background that you would expect for someone hired to be the only marketing consultant for a PAC.
Before each of these payments to Roberts from the PAC, Ocasio-Cortez's campaign paid $8,172.82 and $6,191.32, respectively, to Brand New Congress's LLC. An additional payment of $4,516 was made to the LLC a few months earlier.
Roberts also listed his address as Arizona, his home state, for these payments, even though a profile in Vogue revealed that the two were living together in an apartment in the Bronx during the campaign and donations he made directly to the campaign listed his address as New York.
If Chakrabarti and Brand New Congress were using the PAC to discreetly help Roberts bankroll the campaign, that would present serious ethical questions. PAC donations are limited to $5,000 per candidate per year.
It also casts a shadow over Ocasio-Cortez's crusade to end PAC money in politics. In June 2018, she bragged on Twitter that she had pledged at the start of her campaign "to reject all corporate PAC money." While it's true that she seems to have not gotten any money from corporate PACs, in addition to Brand New Congress's PAC and Justice Democrats, she also accepted $5,000 from the progressive PAC MoveOn.org.
But wait, there's more
Once she made it to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez hired Chakrabarti to be her chief of staff. He is no longer listed as being on the staff or the board of Brand New Congress. Ocasio-Cortez's current communications director, Corbin Trent, was the former communications director for Justice Democrats.
Roberts also has a House of Representatives email address, although it is not clear whether or not he is on staff. When Thompson tweeted about this, Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti both replied the email was only created so that he could access her Google Calendar. Email addresses are sometimes supplied to spouses, but in her candidate financial disclosures Ocasio-Cortez indicated that she wasn't married.
Thompson's account was temporarily suspended after this due to his release of Roberts's "personal information," a decision Twitter later admitted was an error.
TheBlaze has reached out to Ocasio-Cortez's office for comment.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday everning that the whole thing was a "conspiracy" based on an "unvetted Medium post" and that she doesn't "shadily pay my boyfriend." However, she failed to actually address any of the claims from the post or the FEC filings.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ocasio-Cortez's campaign was in debt at the time these payments were made. This does not appear to have been the case. The rest of the story, including the payments from the PAC to Roberts, has been independently verified by TheBlaze through publicly available FEC records.
The updated version also includes a response by Twitter from Ocasio-Cortez to this story. Ocasio-Cortez's office has still not responded to our request for comment.