GOP Rep. George Santos faces FEC complaint in first full week in office

Washington — Newly sworn-in Congressman George Santos will begin his first week in office with a formal ethics complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

In a civil complaint filed Monday with the agency and reviewed by CBS News, the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center accused Santos, a Republican from New York, of illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses, including for apartment rent, and of filing false information about both the source of the campaign donations and the campaign’s expenses.

The D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center questioned how Santos was able to make a significant donation to his own campaign in the months before he won a competitive House race on Long Island. The complaint alleged that Santos “undertook to loan his campaign $705,000 during the 2022 election. But it is far from clear how he could have done so with his own funds, because financial disclosure reports indicate that Santos only had $55,000 on his name in 2020”.

Santos admitted in an interview with the New York Post last month that he “embellished” his work and education history during his congressional campaign, after the New York Times reported that it was unable to confirm key details about his background.

Monday’s FEC complaint also raised the prospect of international interference in the election. It claimed: “The hidden true source behind the $705,000 in contributions to Santos’ campaign could be a corporation or foreign national — both of which are categorically barred from contributing to federal candidates.”

The Campaign Legal Center complaint also raised questions about the expenses listed in Santos’ campaign finance reports. Dozens of expenses are listed as costing $199.99 in the Santos campaign expenditure filings, just a dime below the $200 threshold for which the FEC requires receipts or itemized details. The complaint said: “The promotion reported an astounding 40 payouts between $199 and $200, including 37 payouts of exactly $199.99. The large number of these just under $200 payouts is unlikely, and some payouts appear to be impossible given the nature of the item or service which is covered.”

According to the Campaign Legal Center complaint, some of the $199.99 listed expenses on Santos’ campaign finance filings included Uber rides and hotel stays: “The Santos campaign reported a $199.99 payment to the W Hotel South Beach in Miami, Florida on October 13, 2021 , for “Hotel Stays,” but the cheapest room available for a midweek stay in October — a one-night stay, one room for one adult — is priced at more than $700.26.”

The Santos campaign also reported a $199.99 payment to identity verification company CLEAR for “Travel,” but CLEAR said in an email that its non-discounted standard annual membership is $189.28. The Santos campaign reported a payout of $199.99 to JFK Parking, but there is no combination of fees from that airport parking facility that would end up at $99.99.

“Voters deserve the truth. They have a right to know who is spending to influence their vote and their government, and they have a right to know how the candidates competing for their vote are using those funds,” said Adav Noti, senior vice president & legal director at the Campaign Legal Center.

George Santos has lied to voters about many things, but while lying about your background may not be illegal, deceiving voters about campaign financing and spending is a serious violation of federal law,” Noti said.

Santos declined multiple requests for comment from CBS News about allegations of fabrications about his background and about his campaign finance reporting. Attempts to immediately reach a spokesperson for the congressman about the recently filed FEC complaint were not successful.

House Speaker-elect Kevin McCarthy has not responded to questions about Santos or Santos’ future in the House Republican Conference in recent weeks.

According to guidance from the FEC, “the Commission reviews each complaint on a case-by-case basis. If the Commission finds that a violation has occurred, possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a settlement agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty. By law all FEC enforcement matters are kept confidential until resolved.”

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