Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D., N.Y.) campaign committee dished out more than $200,000 during the third quarter to Middle Seat Consulting, a firm established by a cofounder of Justice Democrats, the far-left group that propelled the freshman Democrat into office.
Ocasio-Cortez's campaign hauled in $1.4 million in contributions and reported $924,349.64 in operating expenditures between July 1 and Sept. 30, its filings show. Middle Seat Consulting, a firm that "supports campaigns, organizations, and causes fighting for racial justice, climate action, immigrant rights, intersectional feminism, economic justice, and more," was paid $210,364.37 by the freshman representative's committee during this time for email fundraising, digital ad commission, list rentals, and strategy. The disbursements are a major increase from the combined $89,000 it gave to Middle Seat during the first and second quarters. Ocasio-Cortez's committee has now cut the group checks totaling $300,000 this year. Middle Seat is the campaign's highest paid vendor.
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Middle Seat's leadership includes the same cast of characters as several other Ocasio-Cortez-linked PACs and groups, including those that have come under scrutiny by watchdogs.
Middle Seat was cofounded in 2017 by Zack Exley, a former senior adviser for Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign. Exley is one of four cofounders of Justice Democrats alongside fellow Sanders campaign alum Saikat Chakrabarti, who acted as Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff before departing from her office in August to work at New Consensus, a group pushing the Green New Deal that was also cofounded by Exley.
Hector Sigala and Kenneth Pennington, both of whom worked with Exley and Chakrabarti on the Sanders campaign, are listed as governors of Middle Seat in D.C. records.
Prior to Ocasio-Cortez's campaign, Middle Seat also received payments from the Justice Democrats PAC. During the first half of the year, the PAC paid $205,151 to the firm for fundraising consulting. This amount was $185,000 more than its next highest paid vendor, We Also Walk Dogs, and is on pace to topple the $300,000 the Justice Democrats PAC paid to Middle Seat throughout the entirety of the 2018 midterm election cycle.
Natalie Trent, the operations manager of Justice Democrats who is listed as the treasurer of its PAC, appears to be the wife of Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez's former D.C. communications director. Corbin Trent departed Ocasio-Cortez's congressional office around the same time as Chakrabarti to work on the representative's 2020 campaign. He collected overlapping salary payments over a two-month span during the 2018 midterm election cycle from both the Justice Democrats PAC and Ocasio-Cortez's campaign.
The Justice Democrats PAC has been labeled a "slush fund" by watchdogs for the lucrative payments it made to companies established by Chakrabarti.
The Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress PACs, also established by Chakrabarti alongside Trent and Exley, sent nearly $1 million to Chakrabarti's limited liability companies, prompting a complaint from the National Legal and Policy Center. Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti gained majority control of the Justice Democrats PAC in late 2017 but did not disclose that information to the Federal Election Commission, the Daily Caller reported in March.
In mid-March, as the PAC was coming under increased scrutiny over its operations, Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti were quietly removed as governors in the group's D.C. filings to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
An individual at the department told the Washington Free Beacon at the time that it was unnecessary for Justice Democrats to file that report because they did so in 2018 and are on a two-year cycle, signaling that the increased scrutiny led to the changes.