George Santos accused of sweeping campaign finance violations - The Washington Post
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 3 weeks ago • 7 comments
By: Isaac Stanley-Becker (Washington Post)
The complaint against the New York congressman could prompt an investigation by the Federal Election Commission
By Isaac Stanley-BeckerJanuary 9, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. EST Listen Comment on this storyComment Gift Article Share
A complaint filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission accused Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has admitted to fabricating key details of his biography, of wide-ranging campaign finance violations.
The alleged wrongdoing includes masking the true source of his campaign's funding, misrepresenting his campaign's spending and using campaign resources to cover personal expenses.
The complaint, filed by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, could propel a formal investigation into Santos by the federal regulator, the latest chapter in a saga testing the boundaries of political falsehood. Santos has been revealed to have lied about his heritage, education and professional qualifications during his campaign for Congress last year.
"Particularly in light of Santos's mountain of lies about his life and qualifications for office, the Commission should thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money," the complaint argues.
The complaint names Santos and his primary campaign committee, along with his company, the Devolder Organization, and his treasurer, Nancy Marks. Santos, whose election to Congress on Long Island last year helped the GOP secure its narrow majority, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Marks has not responded to phone calls in recent days.
The congressman's deceptions have already sparked an investigation by the district attorney's office in Nassau County, N.Y. Authorities in Brazil are also seeking to revive a fraud case against him dating from 2008.
As probes into Santos multiply, questions about how his campaign raised and spent money are coming into sharp focus.
He reported loaning his campaign more than $700,000 in the 2021-22 cycle despite having only $55,000 in earned income during his previous run for Congress in 2020, according to a financial disclosure. Campaign Legal Center called his claims of earning millions over the previous two years from the Devolder Organization "vague, uncorroborated, and non-credible in light of his many previous lies."
Instead, the complaint alleges, "unknown individuals or corporations may have illegally funneled money" to Santos's campaign through his firm — part of what Campaign Legal Center describes as a scheme for the candidate to act as a straw donor to his own congressional bid. While candidates are permitted to contribute or loan their campaigns unlimited sums, the complaint argues that the money Santos gave to his campaign was not his own but rather given to him "in the guise of salary and dividends" for the purpose of making undisclosed or prohibited contributions that exceeded lawful limits.
The complaint also accuses Santos of misrepresenting his campaign's spending. It notes that his campaign reported "an astounding 40 disbursements between $199 and $200, including 37 disbursements of exactly $199.99," thereby eluding requirements to keep a receipt, invoice or canceled check for all spending above $200.
In some instances, the reported spending did not stand up to scrutiny, according to the complaint. It highlighted a reported $199.99 payment for an Oct. 13, 2021, "hotel stay" at the W South Beach, a Miami hotel whose least expensive room for a midweek stay in October is priced at more than $700. On a single day in November 2021, the campaign twice spent exactly $199.99 on food and beverage at an Italian restaurant in Queens, according to its public disclosures.
"This almost certainly is not an accurate accounting of the campaign's expenses and suggests instead that the payments were either falsely reported or structured to avoid crossing the $200 mark," the complaint argues.
Finally, the complaint alleges that Santos illegally used campaign funds to cover personal expenses, including paying rent on his personal residence in Huntington, N.Y. Payments associated with the property were identified as "apartment rental for staff" or "rent & rent deposit," while Santos himself lived at the suburban home, according to the complaint.
Campaign Legal Center is asking the FEC to find reason to believe that Santos and others named in the complaint violated federal campaign finance law and to conduct an investigation. Enforcement by the federal regulator occurs through such complaints or through audits or referrals by other government agencies. Any probe would require four votes from the six-member body, which is divided evenly by party.
Already, the regulator's analysts have found discrepancies in the Santos campaign's regular filings, requesting information from his committee on more than 20 separate occasions over the past two years. While such requests are routine, and may prompt amendments or additional disclosure, the volume in this case is notable. The campaign has modified several filings but, according to Campaign Legal Center, has left various issues unresolved, including apparently excessive contributions flagged by FEC analysts.
The regulator's most recent letter to the Santos campaign, issued last week, said the committee failed to properly identify all donors who contributed more than $200 and seems to have accepted contributions that breach limits set forth under federal law. The FEC asked for a response by Feb. 8.