A political action committee (PAC) aligned with media darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) paid her boyfriend Riley Roberts two payments of $3,000 during her run for congressional office in 2017. Brand New Congress PAC, which was founded by Ocasio-Cortez’s current Chief of Staff Saikat Chakrabarti, claims it paid Roberts the $6,000 for his marketing services.
A Marie Claire profile from January 15 describes Roberts as "a web developer who worked as 'head of marketing at HomeBinder.com, which helps people manage the maintenance on their homes. He also works as a consultant to help tech startups grow revenue using marketing and development,'" reported The Blaze. "Not necessarily the type of background that you would expect for someone hired to be the only marketing consultant for a PAC."
Public records show Brand New Congress PAC paid $3,000 to Roberts on August 8. Nineteen days later, Ocasio-Cortez's campaign paid $6,191.32 to Brand New Congress LLC. On September 29, the PAC paid Roberts another $3,000.
A report from National Review contributor Luke Thompson suggests that there are serious ethical questions to be raised about the setup. Moreover, as noted by The Blaze, if the money funneled to Roberts was meant to fund Ocasio-Cortez’s anemic campaign — which Thompson argues it likely was — then she would have violated the $5,000 legal limit for PAC donations in a calendar year. Thompson explained:
When AOC won, she then hired Chakrabarti, her strategist/patron, as her Chief of Staff. Taking money from a rich guy, trying to hide it by passing it through a PAC, and then giving her benefactor a government job.
That’s definitely unethical and potentially illegal. Chakrabarti may have made an illegal campaign contribution in excess of federal limits.
Responding to the noise over the report, Brand New Congress PAC told Fox News in a statement that everything was on the up-and-up.
Roberts "is a professional digital marketing and growth consultant who specializes in social media presence and subscriber engagement," said Communications Director Zeynab Day, noting that the freshman Democrat’s boyfriend was hired based "on his experience managing successful advertising and social media campaigns."
"He was hired through a two-month trial period, beginning on August 3, 2017 and worked through the end of September 2017," Day added. "Services to the Brand New Congress PAC consisted of advertising strategies for potential growth, developing metrics, and aiding in execution of strategy to increase brand awareness for the PAC as a whole."
Questions concerning Roberts began percolating in mid-February, when Thompson was suspended from Twitter for highlighting that Roberts was listed as "staff" in the House of Representatives email directory, thus potentially drawing a taxpayer-funded salary. Ocasio-Cortez and her office denied that Roberts is on staff (although he is officially listed as such) and drawing a salary. Either way, this mean Roberts, who is not Ocasio-Cortez’s spouse, has full access to her calendar.
"It’s totally naïve and inappropriate — you wouldn’t allow it in most companies, let alone the House of Representatives. There should be real consequences," former chairman of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz told Fox News. "When I was in the House, my scheduler would forward my wife my schedule once a week. But you’re not allowed unfettered access. And he isn’t even her spouse."
"It should be referred to the Ethics Committee for further investigation," Chaffetz added.
David O'Boyle, a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, told Fox: "From time to time, at the request of members, spouses and partners are provided House email accounts for the purposes of viewing the member’s calendar."