A Richard Mellon Scaife Front Group Targets Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The National Legal and Policy Center is “a front group and industry funded right-wing political and policy lobbying organization,” according to SourceWatch. NLPC has a history of targeting liberal politicians and unions by spreading rumors and sometimes filing complaints. SourceWatch says the NLPC’s chief source of funds is Richard Mellon Scaife, whom you might remember was the instigator of the “Arkansas Project” that bought us the nearly endless Whitewater investigation against President Bill Clinton.

Now NLPC is targeting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Brand New Congress project. NLPC filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Election Commission claiming that AOC’s “top aide illegally funneled campaign donations to two companies he owned,” it says in the right-wing Washington Times.

Saikat Chakrabarti set up Brand New Congress PAC to collect and bundle donations for newbie politicians including Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. He then diverted more than $1 million to two of his companies that did campaign work, skirting reporting requirements. …

…The PAC money went to Mr. Chakrabarti’s Brand New Congress LLC and Brand New Campaign LLC, entities that, unlike PACs and candidate campaigns, do not have to report or itemize their spending.

The Ocasio-Cortez campaign also was paying Brand New Congress LLC for “strategic consulting.”

Saikat Chakrabarti was AOC’s campaign chair and then named by her as chief of staff when she won the November election.

I noticed this story is only running in right-wing media, which made me suspect it’s bogus. If there were a real scandal, mainstream media would not have hesitated to pick it up and run with it. Sure enough, I found this —

The Justice Democrats page explains how Brand New Congress was set up.

One thing we knew we needed to have was a Federal PAC (not a SuperPAC — Federal PACs have a $5,000 donation limit, and we wanted to make sure that we had a cap on donations). This PAC would be necessary to do the work of policy development and candidate recruiting. So we created Brand New Congress as a PAC. But actually running the campaigns — meaning doing direct work for campaigns — is not something a PAC can do for a candidate for free. If a PAC did free work for a campaign, that would literally be the definition of dark money (technically, a PAC can ‘in-kind’ work like this, but we’d be capped at $5,000 worth of work). The FEC puts value on many kinds of campaign work (e.g. direct message consulting, writing press statements, any field work or voter outreach work, etc.). So, we knew that in addition to a PAC to recruit and train candidates, we needed some mechanism to charge the campaigns for the work we’d be doing for them as cheaply as possible while doing it all legally and according to FEC rules.

We originally thought that we could set ourselves up similar to PCCC (boldprogressives.org). They do something similar, where the PAC is set up to do activities like training and recruiting candidates, and then they provide some campaign services for a fee to candidates. However, when we talked to our lawyer, he explained to us that this kind of ‘fee-for-service’ work has to be a small percentage of a PAC’s total work. With BNC, our plan was to essentially run the full campaigns for the vast majority of our candidates, so we were advised that this would definitely be too much fee-for-service work for a Federal PAC to do and still maintain its status as a Federal PAC. The ONLY way to do work for multiple candidates legally at this scale is to create an LLC and act as a vendor.

For that reason, we created Brand New Congress, LLC. To keep things simple, we put all our staff in that LLC and had it act as the vendor for both the PAC and all the candidates. We had in our operating agreement that the goal of the LLC was not to make a profit, and as such, we made our prices as low as possible while still satisfying the FEC’s requirement that we are charging something reasonable because, again, if we weren’t we would essentially be doing heavily discounted work for candidates and that is illegal and immoral since fighting dark money is literally what we want to do. To try to make this as clean as possible, we not only had the language in our operating agreement about the LLC’s purpose, but we also made sure that Saikat Chakrabarti was the only controlling member of the LLC, and that he took no salary (either from the LLC, from Justice Democrats, or from Brand New Congress the PAC). Saikat is lucky to have a small side business that generates him enough income that he is able to do all of this work as a volunteer.

The post goes on to explain the Justice Dems’ setup also.

Today, right-wing blogs and media outlets like Red State, Breitbart and even the Daily Caller are running screaming headlines about how AOC and her aide may face jail time. The problem is that even after the FEC eventually bats down the nothingburger complaint, the charge will live on forever in right-wing mythos, and the Right will continue to charge AOC with campaign finance violations forever and ever.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with aide Saikat Chakrabarti, AP photo