Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) continues to face calls to resign, but several of the Republicans telling him to step down previously accepted contributions from his leadership PAC and haven’t said whether they will return the money.
There’s ordinarily nothing unusual about candidates exchanging money between PACs and campaign committees, so long as the amounts fall within legally established limits. Santos received thousands from other candidates and used his leadership PAC to donate generously to more than two dozen Republicans in 2021 and 2022, campaign finance records show.
At least four of those Republicans — New York Reps. Mike Lawler, Nick LaLota and Brandon Williams, and Ohio Rep. Max Miller — recently called on Santos to resign over revelations that he largely fabricated the resume he presented to voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. Santos has been defiant in the wake of the controversy, admitting to some lies but also refusing to step down.
HuffPost attempted to contact many of the Republicans who accepted money from Santos and are currently serving in the House, asking what they planned to do with the money. None responded as of Friday.
Santos launched the PAC shortly after his first failed congressional bid in 2020, and seeded the fund with a personal loan, records show.
While Santos donated to many losing candidates, he also gave to current GOP House members Elise Stefanik and Claudia Tenney of New York, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Carol Miller of West Virginia, Mary Miller of Illinois, Cory Mills and Maria Salazar of Florida, and Pat Fallon, Ronny Jackson and Beth Van Duyne of Texas.
Campaign finance experts told HuffPost they couldn’t find anything unusual or suspicious in the way that Santos ran his GADS PAC — an acronym for his full name, George Anthony Devolder-Santos. The same cannot be said of Santos’ campaign committee, however, which was the subject of a scathing civil complaint directed to the Federal Election Commission Monday by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
If anything, Santos’ relationship with other Republicans underscores how freely money can flow between candidates and outside entities since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision loosened the rules around campaign fundraising.
“Leadership PACs were set up so that members of Congress who were vying for leadership positions could show their support for the party by supporting other candidates and supporting other members. Now everybody has one,” Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the FEC, told HuffPost.
For example, Miller’s and Santos’ PACs exchanged $5,000 in the last election cycle. The Ohio Republican also personally contributed $8,900 to Santos’ 2022 campaign. Some 30 other Republicans also gave money to Santos, whose district was considered a pick-up opportunity for Republicans in the midterm elections.
Miller, who is from a prominent Jewish family in Cleveland, said Thursday that Santos lied to seek “benefit from the murder of millions of Jewish people” by falsely claiming to be the descendent of Holocaust survivors.
Santos also gave $5,800 to defeated Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, $2,900 to Hageman and $10,800 to Stefanik’s “victory committee” — significant amounts for a political novice who, at that point, had only run one losing campaign.
Stefanik’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment about the contribution, or whether Stefanik disapproves of Santos using a picture of the two as the banner for his campaign Twitter account. House Republican leadership, including third-ranking Stefanik, have not called on Santos to resign.
There is one aspect of Santos’ PAC that’s drawn scrutiny: the $25,000 that Santos personally loaned it in July 2021, a day before the PAC wrote a check for the same amount to New York gubernatorial candidate and then-congressman Lee Zeldin. The Campaign Legal Center is asking the FEC to investigate the source of Santos’ income, specifically as it concerns the $700,000 that Santos loaned his campaign committee in the last election cycle. The $25,000 given to the PAC — which Santos repaid himself within a year — raises further questions about the source of his sudden wealth.
“It doesn’t seem consistent with his own finances,” Erin Chlopak of the Campaign Legal Center told HuffPost of Santos’ windfall after previously claiming a modest income and no assets. “If you look at the timing of the creation of his LLC and the various inconsistencies with how he’s described it, there are questions about how it could have generated a legitimate income. He has essentially been unwilling to answer more questions to clarify those issues.“
The majority of the roughly $230,000 Santos’ PAC raised and spent in 2021 and 2022 came from a joint fundraising account that Santos shared with the Nassau County Republican Committee — which on Wednesday disowned Santos and called on him to resign.
Santos did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. But he told Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida in an interview Thursday: “I’ve worked my entire life. I’ve lived an honest life … [the campaign money] didn’t come from Burisma, it didn’t come from Ukraine, Russia, China — unlike some folks we all know who get money from those sources.”