The man trying to bring down Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her staff for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws during the 2018 midterm elections, is a devout partisan and proud Donald Trump supporter, known for his distaste for the very campaign finance regulations he is using to try and stir up controversy.
Dan Backer, a Virginia attorney, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Wednesday, alleging that Ms Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff Seikat Chakrabarti engaged in a “scheme” to undercut normal “market value” for campaign services for her and several other progressive candidates.
It is a complaint that Mr Backer says shows Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s “hypocrisy” as an advocate for campaign finance reform, even if he does not personally agree with the underlying law. And, it is Mr Backer’s own duality on these issues that campaign finance experts say illustrates how easy it is for partisan complaints to be filed with the FEC and make news with little in-depth scrutiny.
“I think much of what they set out to do SHOULD be legal, and the provisions restricting people from engaging in robust political activity in this way are likely unconstitutional, but it’s still the law,” Mr Backer told The Independent in an email.
He continued: “And it’s self-aggrandising ‘reformers’ like [Ms Ocasio-Cortez] who seek to make the laws even more burdensome. I would be thrilled if the adjudication here resulted in overturning some of these restrictions, but until then it’s still the law and a self-professed reformer ought to follow the laws.”
A request sent to Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s office seeking comment on Mr Backer’s allegations received no reply. She has previously claimed the campaign finance allegations against her originated from a “conspiracy machine”.
In the newest complaint, Mr Backer charges that Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Mr Chakrabarti controlled three overlapping entities — the Justice Democrats PAC, the Brand New Congress PAC and Brand New Congress LLC — with a goal to “subsidise cheap assistance for Ocasio-Cortez and other candidates at rates far below market value”.
The complaint details a string of allegations, with multiple different ways that Mr Backer says Ms Ocasio-Cortez may have violated campaign finance laws.
“Dan Backer is a longtime actor in this space who has scored some notable victories. He has won, but he also has a reputation for taking a kind of kitchen sink approach,” said Daniel Weiner, the senior counsel for the Brennan Centre for Justice.
“He sues the FEC constantly and loses much more often than he wins, though he has won,” Mr Weiner continued. “He’s also, frankly, he’s a very, very committed partisan. Not unlike many people in this bar. He’s also a committed — one might even say ferocious — opponent of campaign finance regulation generally.”
Mr Backer’s complaint was filed on Wednesday on behalf of the Coolidge Reagan Foundation, a conservative activist group that has challenged Ms Ocasio-Cortez for campaign finance violations on at least one other occasion.
The foundation is run by Mr Backer and by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican donor and delegate for Mr Trump who once challenged — and won with Mr Backer’s help — the FEC over limits on aggregate campaign donations to federal candidates during a two year period.
In addition to his complaints against Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Mr Backer has been active in Republican politics organising against former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Mr Backer helped to establish the Stop Hillary PAC, for instance, which was highly critical of her handling of the 2012 attacks on US government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, where a US ambassador was killed. The PAC was later renamed following Mr Trump’s election as the Committee to Defend the President.
Mr Backer was also involved in a complaint accusing the Clinton campaign in 2016 of campaign violations related to payments to Fusion GPS – the company that helped produce the dossier compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele.
With Mr Backer’s signature behind it, the Committee to Defend the President and a separate pro-Trump PAC called Great America PAC have already begun spending big to support the president’s re-election bid. By mid-February, for instance, those two groups had already spent $441,038 and $821,280, respectively, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics.