The top aide to freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., faces scrutiny for $885,000 in payments he received from his boss’ campaign and from political action committees, according to a complaint filed this week with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Saikat Chakrabarti, who now serves as Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional chief of staff, headed two PACs and a political consulting company called Brand New Congress that provided 2018 campaign services for Ocasio-Cortez and other liberal Democrats. The National Legal and Policy Center charges in its complaint that the setup served to cover up campaign expenditures.
FEC filings show the PACs and campaigns making contributions for “strategic services” to Chakrabarti’s company, but the complaint says the company should have given a more specific account of what campaign work it provided.
“In all my years of studying FEC reports, I’ve never seen a more ambitious operation to circumvent reporting requirements,” said Tom Anderson, director of the group’s Government Integrity Project. “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has been quite vocal in condemning so-called dark money, but her own campaign went to great lengths to avoid the sunlight of disclosure.”
Ocasio-Cortez and Brand New Congress have denied any wrongdoing.
“There was no violation,” she told Fox News.
Chakrabarti tweeted he had been upfront about Brand New Congress and another organization he help found, Justice Democrats, from the beginning, pointing to an interview he gave in 2016 when starting the groups that he described as an effort to run congressional campaigns like a national presidential one.
Campaign finance expert Paul S. Ryan of the nonprofit group Common Cause told NBC News that there may have been a violation of FEC disclosure requirements, but that such a violation would likely be seen as relatively minor. —Anne K. Walters
The Democratic Party’s 2016 nominee for president, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announced Monday she will not make a run for the White House in 2020. Speaking to a New York City television station, Clinton said she isn’t running but plans to “keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe.” But sources close to Clinton later told a New York Times reporter that she “wasn’t trying to be emphatic and close the door on running.”
In a less ambiguous announcement, Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and three-time mayor of New York City, said he is out of the running. “I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field,” he said on Sunday. Bloomberg said he will work instead on fighting climate change by encouraging the use of renewable energy sources. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also announced this week they will not seek the Democratic nomination for president.
Meanwhile, an already crowded field of Democratic candidates continued to expand. On Friday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared his intentions to join the 2020 race. In a video announcement, Inslee said he will focus his campaign on climate change, a move that has earned him the endorsement of celebrity scientist Bill Nye. John Hickenlooper, the two-time governor of Colorado, announced Monday that he will also run for president.
When those Democratic candidates gather on stages to debate during the primary season, their interactions will not air on Fox News. The Democratic National Committee said Wednesday it will bar Fox from hosting or broadcasting any of its debates. DNC Chairman Tom Perez said Fox News “is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate,” citing a recent New Yorker report on the ties between the cable news channel and the Trump White House. Bill Sammon, managing editor of the Fox News Washington Bureau, said in a statement he hoped the DNC will reconsider. —H.P.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Tuesday that he will resign in one month. Under his watch, the FDA cracked down on electronic cigarettes to curb teen vaping. Gottlieb also led a push to lower drug prices by reducing barriers to generic medications breaking into the market. It is unclear why Gottlieb is resigning, but he seems to be leaving on good terms. After Gottlieb’s announcement, President Donald Trump tweeted that he had done an “absolutely terrific job.”
In other White House personnel news, former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker resigned from the Justice Department on Saturday. Since the Senate confirmed William Barr to the position permanently last month, Whitaker had worked as a senior counselor in the department. Democrats fiercely criticized Whitaker, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He appeared before a House Judiciary Committee panel on Feb. 8 and denied interfering with the inquiry. —H.P.