News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

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.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

Keep reading... Show less
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

Keep reading... Show less