Several conservative media outlets have reported Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, as violating campaign finance law by "funneling $1 million in contributions from political action committees established to private companies that he [Chakrabarti] also controlled." Those two companies are Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress.
How did this all start?
While some conservative media has already headlined Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez as violating campaign finance laws, no violations have occurred. It is a complaint that was filed to the FEC. Fox News, Washington Examiner and most conservative media all point to a single complaint that was filed to the FEC.
What was the complaint and who filed it?
As a reference, here's the entire full complaint that was filed to FEC.
Basically "the complainant has found reason to believe respondents knowingly and willfully violated 2 U.S.C. 434 (b)(5) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971."
434(b)(5) states "failing to itemize all contributions and expenditures of $200 or more."
The complaint's "exhibits" are comprised of screenshots from several websites and several PDFs downloaded from the FEC site stating the itemized deductions and the declared organizations. To date, the FEC has a report that has already looked into expenditures to Brand New Congress.
The complaint was filed by Peter Flaherty of the National Legal And Policy Center (NLPC) - a right leaning non-profit group. Its head researcher for the complaint was Tom Anderson, who is described by NLPC as having that "special skill to recognize corruption hiding in plain sight" and having the "talent to know what to do with the information".
"Sitting in front of a computer and working the phones, Tom has achieved near-legendary status with investigative reporters."
- Tom's bio
His previous experience includes being a manager at Bloomingdale's. Very qualified.
NLPC's website ranks at 3,073,901 in Alexa Traffic. That's equivalent to your buddy's side gig like Devin's Plumbing and Drain who probably just started it last week.
The Full Story
If you don't feel like reading this entire explanation, you can just scroll to the video below.
On page 17 of the exact same complaint, a customer service rep for the Justice Democrats (one of the PACs) responded to the question on a freshdesk forum titled
When I look at the FEC report for Justice Democrats in 2017, why are there so many expenditures?
In it, he/she explains it all and breaks it all down:
This is a longer answer because we'd like to be as transparent as possible about how we got started and why this is the case.
To give some context, many of the founding members of Justice Democrats also helped start Brand New Congress in April of 2016. At that time, the goal was not just to endorse existing candidates who have campaigns. Our goal with Brand New Congress was to recruit candidates who were not thinking about running already and to actually fully run all of their campaigns as if it was one big presidential race. This was right after the Bernie campaign, so this was our thought for how to recreate that Bernie movement in a giant 400-candidate national race. This would let us have all kinds of efficiencies that come with a big national race and also, we believed, was one way we could create a national movement around taking over Congress. It would also, we believed, let us recruit different kinds of candidates who may not have had a lot of experience running campaigns but who believed in this big vision to change our country. Normally, running a campaign requires all kinds of ops and legal headaches, but we thought we could possibly short circuit that by having this big national campaign that all the candidates could plug into and one central team was doing the annoying work of keeping the actual campaign logistics running. That way each candidate would not have to become an expert in campaigns -- they would just need to be an expert in the policies and getting the message out. It was definitely a very new idea in the world of politics in the US (though anyone familiar with parliamentary politics in Europe would find this to be a very obvious idea as this is basically how new parties work there), and in hindsight was perhaps too ambitious, but we did believe it could be possible if we could unleash a movement similar in size to the one Bernie had just unleashed. Here's a video of us talking about this model on MSNBC from April of that year:
The customer rep continues:
Legally, however, this was incredibly complicated. 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.
So What's The Big Deal?
It's a complaint and anyone can file to the FEC as long as someone has "reason to believe".
So why is conservative media talking about it so intensely?
Part of conservative media's ploy is giving legs to headlines like "Ocasio-Cortez denies dark-money allegations in FEC complaint" - but only if AOC gives it one. So what does she do? Answer in the affirmative "nope".