Investigation Reveals Top George Santos Donors 'Don't Seem to Exist'

U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on January 25, 2023.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Investigation Reveals Top George Santos Donors 'Don't Seem to Exist'

The potential campaign finance law violations were exposed amid reporting that the DOJ asked the FEC not to take action against the Republican congressman while prosecutors conduct a criminal probe.

A pair of Mother Jones journalists revealed late Friday that more than a dozen people identified as top donors to GOP Congressman George Santos' campaign who collectively account for over tens of thousands of dollars raised from individual donors in 2020 "don't seem to exist."

That revelation came as The Washington Post reported Friday night that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) "to hold off on any enforcement action" against the first-term New York Republican "as prosecutors conduct a parallel criminal probe, according to two people familiar with the request."

Since his November win—which followed an unsuccessful 2020 run—Santos has faced intense scrutiny and pressure to resign over his mounting "lies and misdeeds," from dishonesty about his education, employment, family, religion, and residence; to concerns about his net worth soaring; to claims of fraud in Brazil and the United States.

The Mother Jones reporters attempted to contact "dozens of the most generous donors" to Santos' 2020 campaign. While several people confirmed their contributions, the investigation also uncovered various "questionable donations, which account for more than $30,000 of the $338,000" raised from individuals that year.

As the magazine detailed:

During Santos' first run for Congress, only about 45 people maxed out to his campaign during the primary and general elections. In nine instances, Mother Jones found no way to contact the donor because no person by that name now lives at the address listed on the reports the Santos campaign filed with the FEC. None had ever contributed to a candidate before sending Santos the maximum amount allowed, according to FEC records. Nor have any of these donors contributed since. The Santos campaign's filings list the profession of each of these donors as "retired."

Two other donors who contributed $1,500 and $2,000, respectively, were listed in Santos' FEC filings as retirees residing at addresses that do not exist. One was named Rafael Da Silva—which happens to be the name of a Brazilian soccer player.

   Another suspicious donation was attributed to a woman who shares the name of a New York doctor who has made dozens of donations to Democrats. The Manhattan address listed for this donation does not exist. The doctor did not respond to a request for comment.

The outlet noted that "Santos did not respond to a detailed list of questions Mother Jones sent to his lawyer and his congressional office that included names of donors whose identities could not be verified."

Highlighting the report on Twitter Saturday, Brendan R. Quinn of the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) shared a "general reminder (that is apparently needed) that it is illegal to donate money using a false name or the name of someone else."

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, on the same day that the CLC filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission regarding Santos' 2022 campaign, the group Citizens United filed complaints with the DOJ, FEC, and Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

The Post on Friday framed the DOJ Public Integrity Section's request that the FEC refrain from taking action against the congressman and turn over any relevant documents as "the clearest sign to date that federal prosecutors are examining Santos' campaign finances."

As the newspaper explained:

The FEC ordinarily complies with DOJ requests to hold off on enforcement. Those requests arise from a 1977 memorandum of understanding between the agencies that addresses their overlapping law enforcement responsibilities.

"Basically they don't want two sets of investigators tripping over each other," said David M. Mason, a former FEC commissioner. "And they don't want anything that the FEC, which is a civil agency, does to potentially complicate their criminal case."

The request "indicates there's an active criminal investigation" examining issues that overlap with complaints against Santos before the FEC, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at D.C.-based Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg.

According to the Post, Santos and his attorney did not respond while an FEC representative said the agency "cannot comment on enforcement" and a DOJ spokesperson declined to weigh in.

However, critics of the embattled congressman—who is also being investigated by the offices of Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James and the Republican district attorneys in Nassau and Queens counties—had plenty to say.

"Mr. Santos has one existential reason to remain in office: to gain enough leverage to secure a plea bargain with the U.S. attorney," said Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who has urged the Republican to resign and advocated for federal investigations into him.

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