Founders of Occupy Democrats challenge claim they pocketed donations
Close-up of businessmen hiding money to his pocket (Shutterstock)

Occupy Democrats have had a big presence on Facebook for around a decade and they're known for their viral memes, hyper-partisan clickbait, and political activism that is designed to boost Democrats' political messaging -- all generated from their Facebook and Twitter pages that have over 10 million followers combined. Now, the founders are being accused of funneling money they've raised through their PAC into their own businesses while donating zero dollars to Democrats.

But Rafael Rivero, one of the co-founders of Occupy Democrats, has denied that he pocketed the money. He told Raw Story that a former “compliance professional” had mislabeled the group’s payments, which has now led to false accusations.

On Monday, wildlife photographer Hamish Mitchell posted several photos on Twitter of Occupy Democrats' finances over several campaign cycles that showed about $577,000 of $797,000 raised this cycle on "fundraising consultants," with zero contributions to candidates.

"They are literally fundraising to pay ‘fundraising consultants’, some of which turns out to be themselves. Insane," Mitchell tweeted.

Around $250,000 went to Blue Deal LLC, which is owned by Rafael and his brother Omar Rivero.

IN OTHER NEWS: Trump dismissed worries about sharing classified materials because he wanted to show off the 'sexy parts'

Omar Rivero replied to the accusations, claiming the money goes to "make memes on Facebook" across a network of Facebook pages Occupy Democrats manages called the "Rebel Alliance."

In another tweet, Rivero claimed that Occupy Democrats is a super PAC, "which means that we are legally prohibited from donating directly to candidates." He also claimed that any money that doesn't go to his Rebel Alliance goes to "one Twitter researcher and one graphics designer."

But Axios reporter Lachlan Markay wasn't buying that explanation. "The guy who runs Occupy Democrats is apparently unfamiliar with his own group's legal structure," Markay tweeted. "It's a hybrid pac, which, unlike a super pac, maintains a segregated bank account from which it can contribute directly to candidates."

In another tweet, Rivero wrote: "If you understood the time and effort that goes into making viral memes—and the impact that they have—you might respect our work more." The tweet was immediately met with a wave of mockery and Rivero later deleted it.

READ: Judge goes off on GOP leaders during Jan. 6 trial for being afraid to stand up to Trump

According to Newsweek, Meta advertising data shows Occupy Democrats has spent nearly $300,000 on Facebook advertisements over the last four years bashing Republican politicians who were in no danger of losing reelection. "FEC reports show the group spent a little more than $30,000 in independent expenditures in various races in 2021," Newsweek reports.

"According to paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission, Occupy Democrats is something commonly referred to as a 'Carey Committee,' which the FEC defines as a hybrid political action committee able to give money to candidates directly as well as make independent expenditures to oppose or support a certain candidate, so long as the funds for each operation are kept in separate bank accounts," Newsweek's report stated.

Speaking to Newsweek, Rafael Rivero claimed his brother was unaware of a recent change in their classification with the FEC and that the expenses for "fundraising consulting" were mistakes made by a "compliance officer" who left Occupy Democrats a year ago, which, he said, opened them up to criticism by "internet sleuths" who don't understand the complexities of their operation.

"Our employees have to eat, you know? And there's nothing wrong with us using part of the money to fund this work. Most importantly, the vast majority of the money went to other organizations. It did not stay in our pocket. It was used to fund a broad coalition of Facebook pages which did great work on these races," Rivero said.

"I invite the scrutiny," he said. "I'm very proud of our work. We have nothing to hide. Our donor's money has been used judiciously to great impact. And I regret deeply that because of some clerical error, people are jumping to conclusions, but we have all the evidence to prove that what we did was above board and had a great impact on the election in a positive way."

In a statement, Occupy Democrats said their "investments were not in 'fundraising consulting,' they were in digital content creation, amplification, and consulting, and our FEC statements have been updated to reflect this."

"The dates of the payments in question perfectly match the timeline for these races, and we have kept meticulous records of every meme and video that this work funded," the statement continued. We regret that a clerical error led to unfounded speculation, as we are proud of our work in these races and supremely confident that our donors' money was used judiciously and effectively."

Occupy Democrats have also been accused of spreading misinformation and stealing other people's content -- all scandals that the organization has weathered. It is unclear how new accusations of financial impropriety will affect the viral meme makers going forward.