As freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked the halls of the Capitol Wednesday, a radio reporter asked if she feared going to prison over new allegations of campaign finance shenanigans.
Though the New York Democrat brushed aside the question, the attention on the liberal superstar’s own behavior threatened to overshadow her party’s push this week to pass a major overhaul of campaign and elections law.
“You know what, like, if someone faces murder [charges] you can face jail time,” quipped the freshman congresswoman. “But we didn’t do it. There’s nothing here.”
The question nettled Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who presents herself as a working-class champion against the corrupting influence of money in politics.
It also put her Democratic colleagues on the spot as they opened the debate on a package of legislation that they have designated as their top priority.
“I don’t know what she’s been accused of, but the bill does speak to the issues of campaign finance and voting rights. So it’s a step in the right direction,” said Rep. Jose Serrano, a fellow New York City Democrat.
The almost-600-page bill known as H.R. 1 or the “For the People Act” aims to overhaul campaign and election laws.
It would create a public funding system for elections, turn the Federal Election Commission into a partisan agency, limit the content of campaign ads, require states to allow internet and same-day voter registration, allow felons to regain their voting rights, and dozens of other moves.
The overhaul does not address the shuffling of campaign cash between political action committees and consulting firms that made the Ocasio-Cortez campaign the target of complaints to the Federal Election Commission.
According to the complaint filed by a conservative watchdog group, the Ocasio-Cortez campaign benefited from money illegally funneled from political action committees to consulting firms, both run by Silicon Valley tech millionaire Saikat Chakrabarti.
Mr. Chakrabarit, who also was the architect of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s long-shot election win, is her chief of staff.
The Democrats’ legislation does go after the dark-money contributions to super PACs that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats frequently cite as a main source of corruption.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said there was a big difference between “dark money” and the contributions to her campaign.
“All of it is grass-roots donations, so really I don’t think there is anything here,” she said.
Several House Democrats confessed that they didn’t know all the measures in the massive legislative package.
“By the time we vote on it I will,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat.
Democrats hailed the bill as the solution for a tainted political system, with supporters using the handful of alleged 2018 midterm voting right abuses as a backdrop.
“The system is corrupted. The system is rigged,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said. “Too many people are bought and paid for.”
In a surprising turn against Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union released a rebuke of H.R. 1 this week, arguing that the new restrictions about disclosure and lobbying go too far.
Democrats, however, plan to continue full steam ahead with their rollout despite the issues raised by the ACLU.
“We agree to disagree with the ACLU,” said Mr. Jeffries, New York Democrat. “But we’re open to working with everyone to address concerns.”
Democrats are aiming for a final vote Friday.
And that’s likely to be the high point for the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has flatly ruled out bringing the bill up in his chamber and said he thinks it is a political loser.
“I believe we can actually win elections against people who vote for this turkey,” the Kentucky Republican said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that if the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, Democrats may break the package into smaller parts and pass those, hoping to find some areas of agreement.
Mr. McConnell said that plan is unlikely to fare any better in the upper chamber.
“I don’t see anything in here salvageable,” he said. “What is the problem that we’re trying to solve here? We had the highest turnout last year since 1966 in an off-year election. People are flooding to the polls.”
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