George Santos never filed a key financial statement. Enforcement has been lax for years.

The vast majority of applicants who failed to file financial information on time were not otherwise accused of wrongdoing. In many cases, these are first-time applicants who may be inexperienced with the federal system. But the fact that such violations are rarely reported and penalties are virtually non-existent makes it easy for candidates like Santos to avoid disclosing key financial information, ethics experts say.

“The lack of proper but robust enforcement of these rules really invites ignoring them,” said Meredith McGehee, a longtime ethics expert and veteran of several Washington nonprofits.

Following the allegations against Santos, other members of the House have introduced bills aimed at preventing him from profiting from his campaign lies and requiring future candidates to provide accurate information about their work history. But little reliance has been placed on the lax enforcement of existing laws that aim to provide transparency to voters.

Santos, who recently filed paperwork to run for re-election again in 2024, is being investigated by local and federal prosecutors but has denied breaking any laws and has not been charged. ‘a crime. Asked about the financial disclosures, Santos’ congressional office said he could not legally comment on campaign matters. His personal lawyer, Joe Murray, said it would be “inappropriate to comment on an open investigation”.

Missing deadlines and missing forms

Congressional candidates are required by federal law to file a personal financial statement once they have raised or spent more than $5,000 for a House election. In odd-numbered years, the form must be completed by May 15 or within 30 days of the candidate collecting that amount, whichever comes first, although there is also a 30-day grace period before a candidate is liable to a fine. In election years, the deposit is due no later than May 15 or 30 days before a primary. (Late filings are subject to a $200 fine, with other possible but rare penalties.)

The requirement for candidates to file financial statements dates back to a 1978 law that sought to identify conflicts of interest and prevent members from using congressional functions for personal gain.

Santos, who began raising money for a potential 2022 campaign the day after his 2020 loss to the then-Rep. Tom Suozzi (DN.Y.), should have filed a financial return in May 2021. This form could have provided information on how the would-be congressman went from saying he had no assets in 2020 to be said to be worth millions of dollars in 2022, assuming he filed it accurately.

But Santos has not filed a financial return for 2021, according to the US House Clerk’s Office. His 2022 disclosure was also not filed until September, after the New York primary election and several months after the deadline, although Santos did not attract a GOP opponent.

“George Santos is an easy scapegoat for larger institutional issues that Congress has neglected to address for many, many years,” said Donald Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. a nonprofit watchdog that has raised concerns about Santos’ access to classified information. “The only question that remains is are they going to deal with him?”

The late 2022 disclosure and the lack of a 2021 disclosure are now the subject of an ethics complaint that the Democratic representatives. Dan Goldman And Ritchie Torres, both of New York, filed a lawsuit against Santos in January. They are among a number of allegations being reviewed by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, which voted unanimously to investigate Santos last month.

Under federal law, applicants can face civil penalty or criminal charges for personal financial disclosures if they “knowingly and willfully” fail to file on time or file a false report. Such application has generally only occurred in the context of larger corruption investigations.

“They are not going to take care of the losers”

There are a multitude of reasons applicants may file their forms late. The main argument cited by applicants is that they were unaware of the requirement. Campaign fundraising, which triggers the requirement to file a personal financial statement, is reported to the FEC, which is separate from the congressional office where financial forms must be filed. Navigating the barrage of forms needed to run for Congress can be difficult for new candidates who may not have experienced staff, ethics experts have acknowledged.

Many of the candidates who failed to file financial returns are political longshots who don’t make it near the election. Of the more than three dozen candidates identified by POLITICO who missed financial disclosure deadlines in 2021 or 2022, the majority lost primaries or entered general elections that would be decided by more than 20 points.

“The ethics committee tends to take the position that they’re not going to deal with losers because their jurisdiction is over members of Congress,” McGehee said.

But a few first-time candidates have been elected to Congress despite a lack of financial disclosures, including Santos and Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), whose filing default was first reported by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 in January. Ogles finally filed the form a few days after the local report, more than eight months after the deadline. Ogles is also facing questions about the money he raised through a 2014 GoFundMe. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Ogles is not the only candidate to file the required forms after attracting the attention of his opponents or the local media. For example, the Dallas Morning News reported last October that now Rep. Jasmine Crocket (D-Texas) and his Republican opponent had both missed financial disclosure deadlines. Crockett, who would go on to win the election by more than 50 points in a heavily Democratic district, filed the forms in October after the newspaper asked, and noted at the time that she had filed state financial returns more comprehensive than those of Congress. requirement. Texas’ early congressional primaries are also complicating deadlines for candidates in the state.

When candidates don’t file disclosures, voters lose the ability to make the most informed decision, said Danielle Caputo, legal counsel for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog group.

“It kind of defeats the purpose of being able to choose your representation if you don’t actually know who they really are,” she said. “And financial disclosure reports are certainly part of who a person is.”


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