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News / Politics

Legal woes grow for George Santos as another watchdog files FEC complaint

By Jim Saksa, CQ-Roll Call
Published: January 13, 2023, 8:00am

WASHINGTON — The troubles keep piling up for serial prevaricator George Santos, the freshman representative whose alleged misuse of campaign funds now has another government accountability group asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate.

Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog organization, filed a complaint with the FEC on Friday, alleging the New York Republican’s campaign misused funds for personal expenses, accepted excessive contributions and filed disclosure forms late.

“With each passing day, Congressmen Santos’s rap sheet of potential crimes and outlandish lies continues to grow. The FEC has an obligation to hold him accountable — Speaker McCarthy and his MAGA majority certainly won’t, especially after gutting the Congressional Ethics Office,” Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said in a statement.

On Monday, the Campaign Legal Center filed its own FEC complaint also accusing the Santos campaign of paying personal expenses, focusing on its suspicious disclosures showing disbursements of $199.99, a cent below the threshold for providing receipts.

Santos has faced intense scrutiny since December, when The New York Times reported that he lied about nearly every aspect of his life. (Previous questioning of Santos’ make-believe biography by local news outlets before the general election failed to attract much attention. )

Confronted with the claims that he had lied about graduating from Baruch College, playing volleyball there, working on Wall Street, owning multiple rental properties, earning a high six-figure income, having Jewish ancestors who survived the Holocaust, running an animal welfare charity and having employees who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting, Santos has admitted to “résumé embellishment” while refusing to accept any formal repercussions.

The Accountable.US complaint alleges that the Santos campaign improperly accepted $113,390 in contributions from 36 individuals that exceeded the $2,900 per election limit. It also alleges that Santos used campaign funds for personal use, including rent and travel expenses to Florida unrelated to the election.

In addition to the FEC complaints, Santos’ legion of lies has already led other watchdogs to lodge complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics, Democrats to ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York to reportedly launch an investigation.

Santos remained defiant on Thursday as the demands for his defenestration grew, describing it as the product of the media’s biased scrutiny of Republicans. “I just pray for all of you, when they come for you, that you have the same strength I have,” Santos said on Steve Bannon’s podcast Thursday, which was being guest hosted by Rep. Matt Gaetz while Bannon was in a New York courtroom facing fraud and money laundering charges related to a scheme to privately finance a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Santos has been dogged by questions surrounding $700,000 in loans to his campaign that he disclosed in FEC filings. Public evidence suggests that Santos, who a few years ago faced eviction proceedings for failing to pay his rent, never had that kind of personal wealth. Asked by Gaetz where the funds came from, Santos deflected.

“I’ll tell you where it didn’t come from. It didn’t come from China, Ukraine or Burisma, how about that?” Santos said, alluding to GOP allegations that Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, peddled access to his father while on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

Pressed again on the funding’s origins, Santos again demurred. “I have worked my entire life; I have lived an honest life. I’ve never been accused of any bad doings,” he said, even as accusations of his dishonesty continue to accumulate.

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House Democrats have called on Santos to resign and, barring that, have floated the idea of expelling him from the chamber. A resolution to expel a representative is privileged, meaning it would be guaranteed a floor vote soon after any member introduces it. Only five representatives have been expelled, although many facing expulsion have resigned instead. The last member to be expelled was Ohio’s James Traficant in 2002.

Some of his GOP colleagues have joined the chorus crying out for Santos’ removal. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito joined with other Nassau County Republicans on Wednesday to demand his ouster. Fellow Long Island Republican Rep. Nick LaLota also said Santos should resign, as did Rep. Brandon Williams and the New York GOP state party chair, Rep. Nick Langworthy. Meanwhile, Rep. Andrew Garbarinodeclined to comment to Axios, noting he serves on the Ethics investigation subcommittee.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Thursday and conducted on behalf of Unrig Our Economy, a progressive advocacy group, found that 60 percent of 3rd District voters wanted Santos to resign, including 34 percent of his voters.

Despite the public pressure, the thin margins in the House make it unlikely he will surrender this battleground seat anytime soon. Santos won his district with 54 percent of the vote — about the same margin by which Biden carried it in 2020. If Santos did resign, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, would be able to schedule a special election a few months later. If Democrats won that seat, and assuming they meet expectations to win the special election for the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin ‘s seat in Virginia, Republicans’ margin in the House would shrink to just three votes.

So far, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has resisted calls to remove Santos, at least before the Ethics Committee can investigate. “The voters of his district elected him, he is seated, he is part of the Republican Conference,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “There are concerns with him, so he will go before Ethics. If anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable exactly how anybody else in this body would be.”

If party loyalty weren’t enough, Santos has personal motivation to avoid falling on his sword. Reports suggest he lied about his wealth, and his prospects for other gainful employment after Congress will be exceedingly grim, so giving up a representative’s $174,000-per-year salary would be tough, even before you factor in the legal bills likely coming his way.