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AOC, a dark money critic, linked to questionable campaign finance tactic

Politicians who challenge the status quo must remember they live in a very large glass house, their critics always poised to throw the first stone. It's one reason why so few members openly challenge the ethical or ideological baselines in Congress, lest they become vulnerable to being pilloried as hypocrites.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an exception that proves the rule on this front, her eagerness to passionately challenge convention topping the reasons why she stands apart as the most prominent and polarizing first-term House member in decades. The self-described democratic socialist has already parried charges of duplicity on several symbolically resonant fronts — making tabloid headlines in recent days, for example, by choosing a car over the subway back home in New York while championing a Green New Deal as her signature issue.

Now comes a charge of hypocrisy that's maybe more serious.

Saikat Chakrabarti, who's now chief of staff after running the Ocasio-Cortez campaign last year, helped create a pair of political action committees that paid his political consultancy, Brand New Congress, more than $1 million in 2016 and 2017, federal campaign finance records show. Chakrabarti's firm also got $18,880 from the campaign in its early stages, after which he worked as a volunteer.

But that arrangement, "first reported by conservative outlets, left hidden who ultimately profited from the payments — a sharp juxtaposition with Ocasio-Cortez's calls for transparency in politics," The Washington Post noted.

A conservative group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday alleging the PACs wrongly shielded the spending from disclosure.

An attorney for the PACs, the consulting firm and the congresswoman's campaign, David Mitrani, said in a statement Tuesday that none of his clients did anything illegal. But watchdog groups suggested the arrangement was unduly evasive, especially for someone aligned with a politician who has labeled dark money "the enemy to democracy."

"In a normal situation, if all you saw was a PAC that disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to an affiliated entity to pay the salaries of people who were really working for the PAC, that looks like ... a PAC that takes in money to engage in political activity but is actually enriching its owners," Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer who is now a transparency advocate at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Post.

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