The Squad & Campaign Finance Scandals
It seems that the three most prolific members of the so-called “squad” of freshman Democratic congresswoman may face allegations of violating campaign finance laws and House ethics rules for their personal or political benefit just 10 months into their terms.
Here are the Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaints and House ethics inquiries that have been filed against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan since they took office:
- Ocasio-Cortez Could Face ‘Jail Time’ Over Unreported Affiliation With Outside PAC
- Ilhan Omar Diverts Campaign Funds To Alleged Boyfriend
- House Ethics Panel Recommends Subpoena Over Rashida Tlaib’s Campaign Payments
Ocasio-Cortez’s political fortunes was made possible mainly to the Justice Democrats PAC, an outside political action committee that recruited her to enter politics in 2017 and provided much of her campaign’s staffing and overhead needs in her June 2018 primary victory over former Rep. Joe Crowley. This has resulted in two complaints submitted to the FEC.
The first complaint, submitted in April, concerned Ocasio-Cortez’s control over Justice Democrats while the PAC was also supporting her primary campaign. She and her former campaign chair Saikat Chakrabarti held two of the PAC’s three board seats in December 2017, but the Federal Election Commission was never notified of the affiliation. Several former FEC commissioners stated that Ocasio-Cortez could face civil or criminal penalties for failing to disclose her campaign’s affiliation to the outside PAC.
“At minimum, there’s a lot of smoke there, and if there are really only three board members and she and [Chakrabarti] are two of them, sure looks like you can see the blaze,” said former FEC Chairman Brad Smith. “If this were determined to be knowing and willful, they could be facing jail time. Even if it’s not knowing and willful, it would be a clear civil violation of the act. … I think they’ve got some real issues here.”
Former FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky added: “If the facts as alleged are true, and a candidate had control over a PAC that was working to get that candidate elected, then that candidate is potentially in very big trouble and may have engaged in multiple violations of federal campaign finance law, including receiving excessive contributions.”
The second complaint, submitted in March, alleged that Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff until August, was running a slush fund during the 2018 midterms by diverting $1 million from Justice Democrats PAC to an LLC under his control.
“It appears Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her associates ran an off-the-books operation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thus violating the foundation of all campaign finance laws: transparency,” said National Legal and Policy Center Director Tom Anderson, who filed the complaint.
The FEC is currently investigating Ocasio-Cortez and the Justice Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez claims that she was “in total compliance” and dismissing the complaints as “a form of legal trolling” from “fringe, Republican groups.”
The abuse of campaign funds by Omar began long before her congressional campaign in 2018. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has ordered Omar to repay her state campaign $3,500 it had improperly spent for non-campaign purposes in 2016 and 2017 when she was a state legislator. She was also ordered to pay a $500 civil penalty for using campaign funds to travel to a non-campaign related conference in Florida.
It gets more interesting. Reports surfaced that Omar was having an affair with married Democratic consultant Tim Mynett, (according to a divorce filing by his wife, Dr. Beth Jordan Mynett). FEC records showed that Omar’s campaign disbursed tens of thousands of dollars in “travel expenses” to Tim Mynett’s company, E. Street Group, LLC.
The payments to Tim Mynett’s company began on April 1, about a week before his wife alleged in her divorce filing that he admitted to having an affair with the congresswoman. Tim Mynett’s “more recent travel and long work hours now appear to be more related to his affair with Rep. Omar than with his actual work commitments,” Beth Mynett said in her divorce filing.
These campaign payments to Tim Mynett’s firm prompted the National Legal and Policy Center to file an FEC complaint against Omar’s campaign alleging that she was using campaign funds to pursue a romantic affair. Anderson, of the National Legal and Policy Center, told the DCNF: “We believe Representative Ilhan Omar may have touched the third rail of campaign finance law: disbursing campaign funds for personal use. It’s a brazen act Representative Omar was caught doing before in Minnesota and all of the evidence we’ve seen tells us she’s probably doing it again.”
Of course, Omar’s attorneys dismissed the National Legal and Policy Center’s FEC complaint and called it a baseless “political ploy.”. The fact say something different. Omar increased her campaign spending to Tim Mynett’s firm in the third quarter of 2019, according to an FEC filing in October. About 30% of Omar’s campaign spending from July through September went to his firm. In total, Omar’s campaign has disbursed $370,000 to Tim Mynett’s firm.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) board voted unanimously in November to recommend the House Ethics Committee continue to investigate whether Tlaib improperly diverted campaign funds for personal use.
House rules allow candidates to receive a salary from their campaign up to what they earned the year prior to their campaign; however, they’re only allowed to receive such payments until the date of their election. Tlaib received over $17,500 from her campaign after she won election in November 2018 which indicates a violation of House rules.
“If Rep. Tlaib converted campaign funds from Rashida Tlaib for Congress to personal use, or if Rep. Tlaib’s campaign committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes, then Rep. Tlaib may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law,” OCE said. They also noted that Tlaib and her staffers refused interviews to discuss the apparent salary payments.
She also denies doing anything wrong and said in a statement she “received the minimum salary payments necessary for me to meet my personal financial obligations.”
I find it questionable that the $174,000 a year she makes as a representative would not meet her "personal financial obligations".