The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday alleging Republican Rep. George Santos’ campaign committed multiple campaign finance violations, including claims that “unknown individuals or corporations may have illegally funneled money to Santos’ campaign.” It’s the latest fallout from falsified claims about the newly-elected member of Congress’ biography and business experience, fabrications that called attention to unusual campaign finance disclosures and questionable financial dealings.
In the 2022 midterm election, Santos flipped a Democratic-held seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, helping the GOP win a slim majority in the House of Representatives. As the national news media dug deeper into Santos’ background, a Dec. 19 exposé in the New York Times called into question the factual accuracy of much of his resume. Santos is now accused of extensively fabricating his biography, and he is being investigated by federal and state authorities for potential instances of financial malfeasance related to his campaign.
Democratic campaign finance reform group End Citizens United filed three complaints against Santos with the Department of Justice, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the FEC. Insider first reported Monday that the complaints allege, among other things, that Santos filed a financial disclosure statement almost a year late and omitted information about assets he claims to hold.
American Bridge PAC — another Democratic political group — also wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics, complaining that Santos failed to file complete and accurate financial disclosures and requesting a probe into the use of House resources for political purposes.
On Tuesday, New York Democratic Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres filed another complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics accusing Santos of failing to file “timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports.” In an earlier letter on Dec. 29, Torres asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Santos falsified his financial disclosures. Torres has also proposed legislation called the Stop Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker Act, or SANTOS Act, which would require House candidates to provide biographical information under oath.
The ethics complaints come shortly after the House of Representatives passed a new set of rules governing the chamber that curtail the Office of Congressional Ethics’ ability to investigate members of Congress accused of wrongdoing by confining its ability to hire new staff to the next 30 days, imposing a requirement that at least four members sign off on each new hire and imposing term-limits that effectively remove three of the four Democratic-appointed members.
“It’s a good thing for transparency. It’s a good thing for Americans,” Santos told Insider, calling the change “fantastic.”
Numerous claims that Santos has made about his life and background — including that he is Jewish, that he attended a prestigious prep school and graduated college, that his grandparents fled anti-Semitic persecution in Ukraine and later Belgium during World War II, that four of his employees died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando and that his mother was “the first female executive at a major financial institution” who survived the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center — have all been debunked.
In a recent interview with the New York Post, Santos apologized for some of his fabrications and said “we do stupid things in life.”
Santos, the son of Brazilian immigrants, is the first non-incumbent LGBTQ+ Republican to be elected to Congress, though other LGBTQ+ Republicans have been reelected to Congress after being outed while in office.
But that historic first has been eclipsed by the controversies about his life and financial affairs, and the recently-announced investigations at the state and federal level into whether he committed any crimes related to his campaign.
Here’s what to know about the George Santos financial and legal controversies:
Santos has been scrutinized by campaign finance watchdog groups after multiple news outlets examining his financial disclosures revealed unusual or potentially illegal activities, and new details about Santos’ campaign activities have continued to emerge.
Federal campaign also records show that Santos loaned his campaign more than $700,000, which campaign finance watchdogs say could be a violation of the law, depending on whether the money was from Santos personally or from the Devolder Organization.
While candidates for federal office are permitted to make unlimited contributions of their own money to their campaigns, they cannot do so with corporate accounts. Since the Devolder Organization is registered with the state of Florida as an LLC, it is legally distinguishable from Santos the individual, a fact that Santos appeared to learn for the first time while speaking to reporters from the Daily Beast, promising to look into the matter “immediately.”
According to campaign disclosure forms, Santos’ campaign spent nearly $11,000 on rent in expenditures paid to a cleaning company called Cleaner 123, Inc. The expenditures are described as an “apartment rental for staff,” and the forms provided the address of a house on Long Island. The New York Times reported that neighbors said Santos and his husband had been living at the house, which could constitute an illegal use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
The Santos campaign spent $40,000 on air travel, which is unusual for a first-time member of Congress. Robert Zimmerman, Santos’ Democratic opponent, spent only about $1,600 on air travel during the 2022 cycle, an OpenSecrets review of FEC campaign finance disclosures shows. Santos’ campaign also spent $30,000 on hotels and Airbnb stays, not just for travel between New York and Washington, D.C. but also to at least eight other states across the country, as well as $14,000 on car services.
CNN has reported that Santos’s campaign listed dozens of expenditures of $199.99 in filings with the FEC, an amount that is exactly one penny less than the $200 amount above which the FEC requires campaigns to keep receipts. Campaign watchdog groups have argued that it is suspicious for Santos’ campaign to have listed expenditures of exactly $199.99 for reservations at luxury hotels that are priced at several hundred dollars per night.
Newsday reported that two of Santos’ campaign committees and two super PACs backing Santos donated a total of nearly $185,000 to Republican committees in Nassau County and the town of Hempstead on Long Island.
RISE NY PAC, a New York state PAC backing Santos, lists Tiffany Santos, the candidate’s sister, as its president in campaign finance filings.
Nassau County GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo told Newsday that the party would return the money contributed from RISE NY, which totals more than $126,000. Cairo told Newsday that “George Santos is not welcome here,” and added, “He’s done with the Nassau County Republican Party.”
Newsday and the Daily Beast have also reported that Andrew Intrater, a cousin and business associate of Ukrainian-born Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, donated tens of thousands of dollars to political committees backing Santos. Intrater is the founder and CEO of investment company Sparrow Capital, previously known as Columbus Nova, which was implicated in a scandal involving then-President Donald Trump and his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
From 2021 to 2022, Intrater contributed a total of $80,000 to RISE NY PAC, and also contributed almost $34,000 to Santos’ campaign, his joint fundraising committees, and a leadership PAC called the GADS PAC, campaign finance records show. “GADS” is an acronym standing for “George Anthony Devolder Santos,” the congressman’s full name.
GADS PAC reported spending about $226,000 during the 2022 election cycle, including more than $165,000 in contributions to other Republican campaigns and committees across 15 states, an OpenSecrets review of campaign finance records shows. GADS PAC gave $25,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and $10,800 to Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) joint fundraising committee, Elise Victory Fund. Other congressional candidates from across the country who received contributions of $2,000 or more from GADS PAC include Reps. Cory Mills (R-Fla.) and Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) as well as unsuccessful candidates for House and Senate, including Tom Barrett in Michigan and Blake Masters in Arizona.
Additionally, the FEC requested that Santos provide further information about his campaign finances, alleging that his campaign accepted excessively large contributions and did not properly disclose details of other contributions.
On Monday, CNBC reported that a member of Santos’ campaign staff raised money during the 2020 and 2022 election cycles by impersonating Dan Meyer, the chief of staff of now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Charging donors for access to tour the U.S. Capitol
Santos offered donors who paid between $100 to $500 the opportunity to take a bus trip to Washington and attend his swearing-in ceremony and tour the Capitol grounds. Daniel Weiner of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice told the New York Post that charging donors for access is “legally questionable and a fairly clear violation of House ethics rules.”
Richard Briffault, a law professor at Columbia University, told NBC New York that Santos’ offer of access to the Capitol in exchange for donations is likely illegal, calling it “an abuse of a government function” and also “an abuse of government property.” Members of Congress are barred from “use of official House resources for campaign or political activity” and also subject to a “broad” prohibition on soliciting or receiving political contributions while in “House offices, rooms, or buildings,” according to House Ethics rules. While campaign money can be used to fund receptions for constituents celebrating their swearing-in on Capitol grounds, the reception is not allowed to be “campaign or political in nature,” according to a Nov. 29 memo from the House Committee on Ethics to all members and members-elect as well as their employees. “A swearing-in event would likely be campaign or political if, for example, the list of invitees were limited to only campaign contributors,” the memo explained.
Prosecutors at the county, state and federal level in New York are examining whether Santos may have committed any crimes in their jurisdiction, including the offices of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly (R), Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz (D) and the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.
Amid speculation that Santos might be expelled from Congress or otherwise pressured to resign, the chair of the New York State Democratic Committee, Jay S. Jacobs, told the New York Post, “I am pretty confident that in either a matter of weeks or couple of months that Mr. Santos is going to have to vacate his seat because of the ongoing investigations into his finances.”
Law enforcement officials in Brazil are planning to reinstate fraud charges against Santos, according to CNN and the New York Times. In 2008, Brazilian officials allege Santos — then 19 years old — stole about $1,300 worth of goods at a clothing store near Rio de Janeiro using a fake name and a stolen checkbook. Santos confessed to police and admitted to committing the crime on a defunct Brazilian social media platform.
CNN reported that Brazilian prosecutors charged Santos with embezzlement in 2011. Court records from 2013 show that the charge was “archived” after Santos did not respond to a court summons and could not be found.
Despite previously admitting to the crime and signing a confession, Santos claimed in a recent interview with the New York Post that he has never committed a crime in Brazil or in any other country.
Employment history and income
Santos portrayed himself as a seasoned Wall Street financier but as his resume unraveled and amid mounting complaints alleging his financial disclosures are incomplete or inaccurate, questions have arisen about how the newly-elected congressman made his money.
While Santos claimed to have worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, both financial companies have stated that they have no record of his employment.
During a Dec. 28 interview on Fox News, Santos argued that “it’s not false at all” for him to have listed fabricated positions for those companies on his campaign website, since he claims to have done business with those firms.
The New York Times revealed that his actual employment during that time period was as a customer service representative at a Dish Network call center in Queens.
Campaign finance records filed by Santos’ unsuccessful 2020 campaign for Congress and his successful 2022 congressional bid show that he made a significant amount of money in the period between the two campaigns.
In 2020, Santos reported no assets and a salary of $55,000 from a company called LinkBridge Investors that organizes conferences for investors. By 2022, he claimed a salary of $750,000 as managing principal of a consulting firm called the Devolder Organization and checking and savings accounts totaling at least $1.1 million, as well as assets including an apartment in Rio de Janeiro valued at between $500,000 and $1 million. Santos also claimed that the Devolder Organization paid him between $1 million and $5 million in dividends.
Campaign finance watchdog groups have asked whether it was legal for Santos to use assets from a business he ran to loan his congressional campaign $700,000. They have also questioned how Santos claimed a net worth between $3.5 million and $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022.
The Devolder Organization has little papertrail. The company does not have a website or a LinkedIn profile and the New York Times described it as “something of a mystery.” Santos registered the Devolder Organization in Florida in May 2021 but it was dissolved in September 2022 after failing to file an annual report.
On Dec. 20 2022, one day after the New York Times published an article exposing many of Santos’ fabrications, Santos reinstated the Devolder Organization in Florida. He claims to be the sole owner and managing member of the firm, but once described it on a campaign website as a family-run firm that managed $80 million in assets, a figure that has not been substantiated by any financial disclosures. The financial data company Dun & Bradstreet estimated the Devolder Organization’s revenue was $43,688 as of July 2022, the Washington Post reported. In its complaint with the FEC, End Citizens United alleges that the Santos campaign may have used the Devolder Organization “as a ‘shell’ to disguise the true sources of the contributions,” in violation of federal law.
In an interview with news website Semafor, Santos said that Devolder was in the “capital introduction business” and that in 2021, he “landed a couple of million-dollar contracts.” Santos described the type of work he did at Devolder as connecting buyers and sellers of planes and boats. He said, for example, that his referral fee for a $20 million yacht could be “anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000.”
While the Devolder Organization’s clients are not listed on its publicly-available financial statements, Santos confirmed in an interview with the Daily Beast that they include two firms affiliated with the family of south Florida billionaire John Ruiz, the Tantillo Auto Group of New York and a firm associated with Long Island insurance executive James C. Metzger.
Real estate holdings and evictions
Santos repeatedly claimed — without evidence — that he and his family owned multiple properties in Brazil, New York and Massachusetts, and has provided contradictory information about where he currently lives. In February 2021, he tweeted a complaint that tenants at 13 properties he and his family owned had failed to pay rent for one year. Santos later admitted in a December 2022 interview with the New York Post that he did not own any properties.
The New York Times reported that Santos has been evicted from apartments in New York City three times, in 2014, 2015 and 2017, after having difficulty paying overdue rent. Currently, Santos appears to be living in an apartment in Queens with his sister, who is facing eviction proceedings there after failing to pay $40,000 in overdue rent, the Daily Beast reported.
Harbor City Capital
Santos boasted that he was briefly employed by a Florida-based company called Harbor City Capital during an interview with the Washington Examiner. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued the company in April 2021, alleging it was a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that victimized hundreds of investors throughout the United States. Santos has not been identified as a person of interest in that case.
Two weeks after the SEC alleged that Harbor City Capital was a Ponzi scheme, several former executives formed a short-lived political consulting firm called Red Strategies USA — and corporate filings indicate that the Devolder Organization was a partial owner of the firm. Campaign finance filings reviewed by OpenSecrets show Red Strategies USA did consulting work for Tina Forte, a Republican candidate who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2022.
In an April 2022 interview with the Daily Beast, Santos said that he had created the Devolder Organization to assist “all the people who were left adrift” after Harbor City Capital was charged with financial crimes.
Editorial and Investigations Manager Anna Massoglia contributed to this report.