Questions persist on source of George Santos campaign funds

Jan 25, 2023, 2:59 AM | Updated: 5:00 pm
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, We...

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

NEW YORK (AP) — Of all the questions swirling around U.S. Rep. George Santos, one of the most serious has been how he amassed the personal fortune he claimed to have used to finance his campaign. The Republican fabulist filed new campaign finance reports this week that only elevated the confusion over whether that money was all his, or came from some other source.

Santos’ campaign provided the Federal Election Commission amended versions Tuesday of reports covering the last two years, including forms that gave contradictory accounts of whether money he lent his campaign — including a half-million-dollar loan last spring– came out of his own pocket.

The new reports raise fresh questions about Santos, who has admitted fabricating key parts of his life story and worked in recent years as a salesman for a company accused of running a Ponzi scheme.

Questioned by reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the first-year congressman from New York again refused to answer questions and denied personal involvement in amending the campaign finance reports.

“Let’s make it very clear. I don’t amend anything. I don’t touch any of my FEC stuff, so don’t be disingenuous and report that I did,” Santos said. “Every campaign hires fiduciaries, so I’m not aware of that answer, but we will have an answer for the press regarding the amendments from yesterday.”

Since announcing his candidacy in 2021, Santos has reported loaning his campaign organization $705,000, accounting for nearly 25% of its receipts over the last two years. That included a $125,000 loan two weeks before the Nov. 8 election

At the time he reported those loans, Santos was portraying himself as a self-made millionaire with a history of big deals on Wall Street, a sizeable family real estate portfolio and plenty of money to back his own candidacy.

Candidates are allowed to lend money to their campaigns. They can also take out a personal bank loan, then lend the money to their campaigns, though if that’s the case, they must disclose the source of the funds, what the terms are, the period of repayment and interest rate.

Santos’ campaign filings, however, have been inconsistent in reporting whether his reported loans, including $80,000 in June 2021 and $500,000 in March 2022, were made with his own money. There were inconsistencies even on the amended forms submitted Tuesday.

Some forms detailing the loans had an “X” in a box indicating they were made with “Personal Funds of the Candidate,” but others did not. Even for the same loans, the answer varied from report to report.

When the $500,000 loan was first reported, for instance, the “Personal Funds” box was not checked on a form included with an April 2022 quarterly report, suggesting the money had originated from a source other than Santos. On subsequent reports, however, the box was checked.

Tuesday’s amended versions had it both ways. In one amendment, the “personal funds” box was unchecked, suggesting again that the money originated with someone else. In another, it was checked.

The lack of any explanation from Santos has made it tough to tell whether the changes were an attempt to correct an error or mere sloppiness of the part of his campaign treasurer.

“George Santos keeps amending his life story, so it’s not that big a surprise that he amends his FEC filings,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for the non-profit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Quite frankly, it’s hard to trust anything he says as being accurate.”

Tuesday’s submissions are the latest in a string of amendments that Santos’ campaign has made to its campaign finance disclosures. Many reports posted to the FEC’s website have been amended multiple times. One report is on its seventh revision.

At the same time, the FEC has repeatedly flagged problems with the campaign’s reports, sending more than two dozen letters requesting additional information about contributions, donors and Santos’ loans.

The original version of Santos’ most recent filing, the post-general election report submitted on Dec. 8, included a mention of his $125,000 October loan but did not include a required separate form about the transaction. The FEC flagged the missing information and the amended report included the form.

The underlying question remains how Santos earned the money.

Despite his false claims of having worked for big, international banks, he was having financial problems up until a few years ago that led to multiple eviction proceedings from New York City apartments.

When Santos first ran for Congress in 2020, his financial disclosure form listed a modest $55,000 salary from a financial company and no significant assets. After he lost that race, he took a job selling investments in a company that the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of being a Ponzi scheme.

Last summer, Santos filed a financial disclosure report suggesting an explosion in his personal wealth. He reported he was making $750,000 per year from his own company, the Devolder Organization, had $1 million to $5 million in savings and owned an apartment in Brazil worth up to $1 million.

He has yet to fully answer questions about how he got so rich so quickly. In an interview with Semafor, Santos said he worked as a consultant for “high net worth individuals,” helping broker the sale of luxury items like yachts and planes.

“The amended filings really don’t provide any clarity on where Santos got this money,” said Saurav Ghosh, the director of federal reform for Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit watchdog that has filed a complaint about Santos with the FEC. “How did somebody who had virtually no assets or income come into millions of dollars overnight, and then funnel $700,000 of that money in his campaign?”

“Anyone looking at that would be suspicious. It raises lots of red flags when somebody is a declared candidate and is also suddenly coming into a bunch of money, a large portion of which he’s been using to run for office.”

Santos has rejected calls for his resignation, even from fellow Republican members of Congress, and says he wants to get to work serving his constituents.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Questions persist on source of George Santos campaign funds