Some big changes came to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office last Friday when the New York Democrat’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, and communications director, Corbin Trent, announced their sudden resignations. While Trent moved on to focus on AOC’s 2020 re-election campaign, Chakrabarti joined a progressive organization focused on climate change and the Green New Deal — but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the former chief of staff.
Just one day after Chakrabarti’s resignation, the New York Post reported that AOC’s former top staffer is the subject of an ongoing federal probe into alleged campaign finance violations committed by him during Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 congressional campaign.
Feds probe Chakrabarti
Citing unnamed federal sources, the Post reported that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) opened up an inquiry into alleged misdeeds by Chakrabarti after formal complaints were filed against him earlier this year.
The primary focus of the probe is Chakrabarti’s role in founding two political action committees (PACs), called Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, which helped Ocasio-Cortez get elected.
Specifically, investigators are looking into allegations of improper relations and the illegal funneling of money through those two PACs to a pair of private, for-profit companies that Chakrabarti also founded around the same time.
Dubious financial transfers
It has been alleged that more than $1 million in political donations were illegally funneled through the PACs to the private companies, known as Brand New Congress LLC and Brand New Campaign LLC, per a complaint filed in March by a government watchdog group known as the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC).
That sum constitutes roughly one-third of the estimated $3.3 million raised in 2016 and 2017 by the pair of PACs, which focus on getting progressive leftists elected to Congress. It is thought the money was shifted from the PACs to the private company as a way to sidestep the strict federal regulations on transparency governing fundraising and spending by PACs — regulations that don’t apply to private companies.
There are also concerns that the dubious shifting of the funds may have resulted in illegal contributions in excess of $5,000 from the PACs to various political candidates, like Ocasio-Cortez, on top of allegations that Chakrabarti may have lined his own pockets with some of the money in the process.
That particular allegation was given room to run in light of staff salary changes implemented by Ocasio-Cortez that saw many staffers get a raise, while Chakrabarti took a massive pay cut.
Chakrabarti’s pay cut from an average chief of staff salary of $146,830 down to $80,000 placed him well below the threshold of $120,000 that would have required him to make official disclosures of his outside income and other financial information.
A reckoning is coming
Aside from the potential campaign finance violations that Chakrabarti is being investigated over, the timing of his sudden resignation also comes following heightened in-fighting among moderate and progressive Democrats — fighting that Chakrabarti played a key role in instigating with remarks that compared moderate Democrats to old, racist segregationists.
It remains to be seen what, if anything, will come from this FEC inquiry into Chakrabarti, but we can rest assured that there are folks on both sides of the political aisle who would like nothing more than to see Chakrabarti held fully accountable.