Campaign’s reports contain contradictory information about whether loans were from personal funds.
Revisions to financial reports filed by the campaign of Rep. George Santos (R., N.Y.) about the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans are adding to questions about the embattled freshman congressman’s finances.
Mr. Santos, 34 years old, is already facing formal complaints related to campaign-finance matters as well as investigations into lies he told during his campaign about his education, work history and ancestry. The latest questions regarding the GOP lawmaker arose from a series of amended filings with the Federal Election Commission made Tuesday.
In earlier filings, Mr. Santos’s campaign reported that a $500,000 loan to the campaign on March 31, 2022, came from the candidate’s personal funds. The campaign also reported that a separate $125,000 on Oct. 26, 2022, was a “loan made by candidate.”
But Tuesday’s amended filings now contain conflicting and incomplete information.
In all but one of the amended filings, the $500,000 loan is marked as coming from personal funds, while it isn’t marked as such in the filing covering the period during which the loan was made. For the $125,000 loan, the check box on the amended filing where a campaign indicates whether a loan comes from personal funds is blank.
On Wednesday, Mr. Santos said that he didn’t make the changes personally.
“Let’s make it very clear: I don’t amend anything; I don’t touch any of my FEC stuff, right?” he told CNN. “So don’t be disingenuous and report that I did because you know that every campaign hires fiduciaries.”
A lawyer for Mr. Santos didn’t immediately respond to email and phone messages seeking comment. An email to Nancy Marks, who served as the campaign’s treasurer and is listed as having filed the amended reports, didn’t immediately get a reply. In previous comments, Mr. Santos has admitted to lying about his résumé but denied any wrongdoing and said he wouldn’t be stepping down from Congress.
The disparity in the campaign finance filings, which was first reported by the Daily Beast, puzzled experts who said it was impossible to fully interpret without further information.
Campaigns amend their filings all the time to correct errors, but the changes in the Santos forms could raise larger legal issues because they involve the source of loans.
Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer and campaign finance expert, said the Santos campaign has already made an apparent campaign-finance violation because it unchecked the personal funds box without then disclosing the source and terms of the loan as required.
He said if the box was unchecked as a clerical error, then the legal ramifications are relatively minor. But if the campaign is in fact now reporting that the loan source wasn’t Mr. Santos’s personal funds, “it’s hard to imagine a source for those funds that would be permissible,” he said.
Federal law allows candidates to loan their own money to their campaigns. They can also obtain loans from banks to use for their campaigns. But federal law treats loans the same as contributions, meaning they face the same amount and source restrictions.
For example, it is unlawful for corporations, labor unions or foreign nationals to contribute to campaigns. Individuals other than candidates can only give certain amounts directly to campaigns— $2,900 per election in the 2022 cycle. And federal law bars so-called “straw donor” schemes, where the true source of a donation is disguised or made in someone else’s name.
Daniel Weiner, a campaign finance expert at the Brennan Center for Justice and former senior counsel at the FEC, said it is also unlawful for a campaign to intentionally misstate the true source of the funds on a federal filing.
“This could be a mistake. Someone could have just forgotten to check a box,” he said, noting it would be “pretty extraordinary mistake” given the amount of scrutiny Mr. Santos is already under.
Mr. Weiner said at minimum the FEC would now send the Santos campaign a letter requesting more information about the discrepancies.
The filings this week weren’t the first to call attention to the loans reported by the Santos campaign.
The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign-finance watchdog group, earlier this month filed a complaint with the FEC accusing him of improperly using campaign funds for personal expenses and concealing the true funding source of the loans. The complaint argued that Mr. Santos’s public financial-disclosure reports showed he only had $55,000 in 2020 and his claims of amassing millions of dollars in wealth since are “vague, uncorroborated, and non-credible in light of his many previous lies.”
Mr. Santos has said in financial filings that he made millions of dollars from his Devolder Organization company, which he has described as a capital-introductions consulting firm.
Democrats and some New York Republicans have called on Mr. Santos to resign, though House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said this week that he stood by the freshman congressman.
“You know why I’m standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him. I do not have the power simply because if I disagree with somebody or what they have said that I remove them from elected office,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. He said Republicans would remove Mr. Santos if he were found to have broken the law.
Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, increasing the importance of each seat for the party to hold the majority and for Mr. McCarthy to retain the speakership.