In early November, Rep. George Santos insisted he could run and win in 2024. On Thursday, the House Ethics Committee released a report so damning that Santos immediately announced he will not, in fact, run again, claiming the decision is because “my family deserves better than to be under the gun from the press all the time” rather than because, say, the report detailed “substantial evidence” of “uncharged unlawful and unethical conduct” on top of the 23 federal criminal charges Santos already faces.
The report strongly suggests that Santos had a great con going with his two congressional campaigns, in 2020 and 2022:
He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit. He reported fictitious loans to his political committees to induce donors and party committees to make further contributions to his campaign—and then diverted more campaign money to himself as purported “repayments” of those fictitious loans.
Given that candidates are allowed to lend unlimited money to their campaigns and then be repaid out of campaign funds, pretending to lend money and then collecting the repayment is quite a neat trick. Santos was also using an LLC he had created to collect money that contributors were told was for independent expenditures supporting his campaign—but the money was then transferred to his personal bank account:
On October 21, 2022, RedStone’s bank account received a $25,000 wire from an account affiliated with Contributor 2. From there, $25,000 was transferred from RedStone’s account to Representative Santos’ personal checking account. On October 26, 2022, RedStone’s bank account received a $25,000 wire from an account affiliated with Contributor 1. On the same date, the $25,000 was transferred from RedStone to a different personal checking account owned by Representative Santos. After the $50,000 from RedStone was deposited into Representative Santos’ personal accounts, the funds were used to, among other things: pay down personal credit card bills and other debt; make a $4,127.80 purchase at Hermes; and for smaller purchases at Only Fans; Sephora; and for meals and for parking.
Those are much bigger thefts than simply using campaign funds to live well day to day—which Santos also did. Over the course of two days in July 2022, he spent $2,281.52 in campaign funds in Atlantic City, although his campaign calendar did not list any events. Earlier in the same month, he spent $3,332.81 on an AirBnB in the Hamptons. In December 2021, he told staff he was in Las Vegas for his honeymoon—but put hotel and taxi charges on a campaign credit card. It wasn’t just travel, either:
For example, during the 2020 campaign, a $1,500 purchase on the campaign debit card was made at Mirza Aesthetics; this expense was not reported to the FEC and was noted as “Botox” in expense spreadsheets produced to the ISC by Ms. Marks. Similarly, the $1,400 charge at Virtual Skin Spa was a campaign debit card purchase that was also described as “Botox” in the spreadsheets produced by Ms. Marks. The ISC also identified an unreported PayPal payment of $1,029.30 to an esthetician associated with a spa in Rhinebeck, New York.
This appears to have been a highly successful con scheme. The problem came when Santos won and people started paying attention, and you have to wonder if he might have gotten away with the big stuff—the overt theft—if he had just resigned when all his lies about his educational and employment background had come out.
The House Ethics Committee didn’t make a recommendation to expel Santos from Congress, and he has already survived one expulsion vote, in part thanks to Democrats who opposed expelling him before the ethics report was released. But another expulsion attempt is likely coming.
We talk about North Carolina non-stop on "The Downballot," so it's only natural that our guest on this week's episode is Anderson Clayton, the new chair of the state Democratic Party. Clayton made headlines when she became the youngest state party chair anywhere in the country at the age of 25, and the story of how she got there is an inspiring one. But what she's doing—and plans to do—is even more compelling. Her focus is on rebuilding the party infrastructure from the county level up, with the aim of reconnecting with rural Black voters who've too often been sidelined and making young voters feel like they have a political home. Plus: her long-term plan to win back the state Supreme Court.