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

Santos accused of breaking campaign finance laws
George Santos accused of breaking campaign finance laws 01:39

Washington — Newly sworn-in Congressman George Santos will begin his first week in office facing 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 an apartment rental, and for submitting false information about both the source of his campaign donations and his campaign's expenses. 

The D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center questioned how Santos was able to make a sizeable donation to his own campaign in the months before he won a competitive House race on Long Island. The complaint alleged Santos "purported 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 had only $55,000 to 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 it was unable to confirm key details about his background.

House And Senate Convene For The 118th Congress On Capitol Hill
Incoming U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) waits as fellow Representatives cast their votes for Speaker on the first day of the 118th Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 3, 2023, in Washington, D.C.  Win McNamee / Getty Images

Monday's FEC complaint also raised the prospect of international meddling in the election. It alleged: "The concealed true source behind $705,000 in contributions to Santos's 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 by Santos' campaign finance reports. Dozens of expenses are listed as costing $199.99 in the Santos campaign expenses filings, just one penny below the $200 threshold for which receipts or itemized details are required by the FEC. The complaint said, "The campaign reported an astounding 40 disbursements between $199 and $200, including 37 disbursements of exactly $199.99. The sheer number of these just-under-$200 disbursements is implausible, and some payments appear to be impossible given the nature of the item or service covered."   

According to the Campaign Legal Center complaint, some of the listed $199.99 expenses on Santos's campaign finance filings included Uber rides and hotel accommodations: "The Santos campaign reported making a $199.99 disbursement to the W Hotel South Beach of Miami, Florida on October 13, 2021, for 'Hotel Stay,' but the least expensive room available for a midweek stay in October — a one-night, one-room stay for one adult — is priced at more than $700.26."

The Santos campaign also reported a $199.99 disbursement to the identity verification company CLEAR for "Travel," but CLEAR stated in an email that its non-discounted standard annual membership is $189.28. The Santos campaign reported a $199.99 disbursement to JFK Parking, but there is no combination of fees from that airport parking facility that would end in $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 spending those funds," said Adav Noti, senior vice president & legal director at Campaign Legal Center. 

"George Santos has lied to voters about a lot of things, 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," said Noti.

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

Newly selected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has not responded to questions about Santos or Santos' future in the House Republican Conference over the past few weeks.

According to guidance from the FEC, the commission "reviews every complaint on a case-by-case basis. If the Commission finds that a violation occurred, possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a conciliation agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty. By law, all FEC enforcement matters are kept confidential until they're resolved."

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