The complaint, filed by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, could prompt a formal investigation by federal regulators into Santos, the latest chapter in a saga that tests the boundaries of political lies. Santos was revealed to have lied about his heritage, education and professional qualifications during his campaign for Congress last year.
“Especially in light of Santos’s mountain of lies about his life and qualifications, the committee should thoroughly investigate seemingly equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money,” the complaint states.
The names in the complaint include Santos and his main campaign committee, as well as his company, the Devolder Organization, and his treasurer, Nancy Marks. Santos, who was elected to Congress last year on Long Island and helped the Republican Party secure a narrow majority, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Max has not returned calls in recent days.
The congressman’s deceit has sparked an investigation by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office in New York, and Brazilian authorities are seeking to reopen a 2008 fraud case against him.
As investigations into Santos mount, questions about how his campaign raises and spends money are coming into focus.
Although he earned just $55,000 during his last campaign for Congress in 2020, he reported more than $700,000 in loans to his campaign in 2021-22, according to financial disclosures. The Campaign Legal Center called his claim that he made millions of dollars from the Devolder Organization over the past two years “a claim that is vague, unsubstantiated and not credible given his many previous lies.”
Instead, the complaint alleges that “unknown individuals or companies may have illegally wired funds through Santos’ companies” to Santos’ campaign — which the Campaign Legal Center describes as part of the candidate’s plan to act as a straw donor to his own congressional campaign . While candidates are allowed to donate or lend unlimited amounts to their campaigns, the complaint alleges that Santos gave him campaign money not his own but “in the name of salary and bonuses” for the purpose of conducting undisclosed or Prohibited Activities. Contributions in excess of legal limits.
The complaint also accuses Santos of misrepresenting his campaign spending.It noted that his campaign reported a “staggering 40 expenditures ranging from $199 to $200, including 37 Exactly $199.99″, avoiding the requirement to keep receipts, invoices or canceled checks for all expenses over $200.
In some cases, the reported spending did not stand up to scrutiny, the complaint said. It highlighted a reported $199.99 payment on October 19. On Jan. 13, 2021, the cheapest room for a midweek stay in October was more than $700 for “hotel stays” at the Miami hotel W South Beach. According to its public disclosure, on one day in November 2021, the event twice spent $199.99 on food and drinks at an Italian restaurant in Queens.
“This is almost certainly not an accurate accounting of campaign spending, but instead indicates that payments were either falsely reported or designed to avoid exceeding the $200 mark,” the complaint said.
Finally, the complaint alleges that Santos illegally used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including paying rent at his personal residence in Huntington, New York. According to the complaint, Santos himself lived in a suburban home.
The Campaign Legal Center is asking the FEC to find reasons to believe Santos and others named in the complaint violated federal campaign finance law and to investigate. Federal regulators conduct enforcement through such complaints or audits or referrals by other government agencies. Any inquiry would require four votes from the six-member body, split evenly by party.
Analysts at the watchdog have identified discrepancies in the regular filings of Santos’ campaign, and they have requested information from his committee on more than 20 different occasions over the past two years. While such requests are routine and may prompt amendments or additional disclosures, the number of such cases is notable. The campaign amended several documents, but according to the campaign’s legal center, many issues remained unresolved, including apparently excessive donations flagged by FEC analysts.
The regulator’s latest letter, sent to the Santos campaign last week, said the committee failed to properly identify all donors who gave more than $200 and appeared to accept donations that violated limits imposed by federal law. The FEC has until February for a response. 8.