(Bloomberg) -- Republican Representative George Santos illegally hid the source of donations to his campaign and violated other provisions of campaign finance law, according to a new complaint filed to the Federal Election Commission.
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Santos claimed to have loaned his campaign $705,000, about a quarter of the $2.9 million he raised, but instead relied on unknown individuals or corporations to donate those funds, the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center alleges. He also used money he raised to pay personal expenses and filed false FEC reports, the group said.
The 50-page complaint potentially opens Santos, who already faces investigations from local, federal and foreign authorities, to charges of specific criminal wrongdoing. The penalty for knowingly hiding the source of campaign funds can be up to five years imprisonment if the amount exceeds $25,000.
'George Santos has lied to voters about a lot of things,' said Adav Noti, legal director at Campaign Legal Center, 'but while lying about your background might not be illegal, deceiving voters about your campaign's funding and spending is a serious violation of federal law.'
An attorney for Santos, didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on whether there were concerns that the FEC would open an investigation into Santos' campaign. Santos' office didn't immediately respond to a message left for comment either.
He might face other legal problems as well. The district attorney for Nassau County, New York, and the US Attorney's office in Brooklyn are investigating Santos, while Brazilian authorities confirmed they have reopened a 2008 fraud investigation.
Santos, 34, has acknowledged inventing significant details about his religion, education and career, including that he graduated from college and worked for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. He has also previously suggested that he was Jewish.
Santos' claim of an annual income that exceeded seven figures in 2021 and 2022 that allowed him to loan his campaign $705,000 was 'vague, uncorroborated, and non-credible in light of his many previous lies,' the complaint says.
According to his candidate financial disclosure form, Santos earned between $2 million and $10 million over 16 months from Devolder Organization LLC, which Florida records show he incorporated three weeks after he launched his campaign for the House in 2021, and claimed assets totaling at least $2.6 million. When he ran for Congress in 2020, he listed an income of $55,000 and no assets.
Under federal election laws, candidates can give or loan unlimited sums to their campaigns, provided they come from personal funds. But Santos' rapid increase in wealth that coincided with his congressional run suggests Devolder Organization was a conduit that allowed others to secretly fund his campaign, the complaint says.
In his 2022 campaign, some of the violations of campaign finance laws cited in the complaint suggest Santos might not have had the income he claimed. He dipped into his campaign coffers to pay his rent, according to the complaint, another violation of election laws, the complaint alleges. Candidates can't use money raised to pay for personal expenses.
The campaign made several payments labeled 'apartment rental for staff,' 'rent' and 'rent and rental deposit' totaling $13,500, its FEC filings showed. The address listed for the payments was where Santos lived.
Santos' campaign also disclosed 37 expenditures for exactly $199.99; all other committees combined reported a total of 38 payments to vendors in that amount in the 2022 election cycle, the complaint says. Those are a penny shy of the $200 FEC threshold that requires a receipt, invoice or canceled check.
It listed $199.99 charges for some items that cost much more. The campaign said it spent that amount in October 2021 at W Hotel South Beach of Miami for a 'hotel stay,' though the cheapest room at the time went for $700, the complaint alleges.
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