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George Santos Just Had to Admit How Much Money He Owes People. Oh Boy.

In World
April 18, 2024

The George Santos–expelled–from–Congress narrative arc went from “This is kind of entertaining” to “Oh, wow, he’s really on Cameo” to “Please, no more” in record time.

Which is probably why, so far, there doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite for a Santos redux, in either eastern Long Island—where he’s attempting to run for Congress again, this time as an independent in the district that includes the Hamptons—or literally anywhere else.

On Monday, Santos’ newfound campaign committee submitted its first quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission. And the committee reported, somewhat comically, that it had zero donors, had raised zero dollars, and that there had been zero dollars spent.

Santos has since provided some curious explanations for the lack of fundraising. He told the Daily Beast he won’t raise any money until he’s confirmed on the general election ballot as an independent candidate, a task that will reportedly require him to obtain the signatures of 3,500 voters in New York’s 1st District by the end of May. And he told the New York Daily News that he’s trying to cut against unfair media narratives. “If I raise money, you’re going to say I’m doing it to grift or to fund my lavish lifestyle or whatever you want to write,” he said, referencing the credible allegations of his having previously used contributions to fund his lavish lifestyle. (In addition to a House Ethics investigation that found “substantial evidence” of criminal misconduct by Santos, he also faces 23 felony charges, including stealing donors’ identities and spending their money without their consent. Santos has denied wrongdoing, and a trial date is tentatively set for September.)

The $0 fundraising quarter for Santos’ 2024 campaign got some well-earned media attention this week, but a separate report about the zombified remnants of Santos’ 2022 campaign was also submitted to the FEC on Monday. That report revealed a bunch of still-outstanding debts to an eclectic collection of characters from the Santos Extended Universe—none of whom are presumably thrilled to hear that, as a strategic matter, he has no intention of replenishing his fundraising coffers anytime soon.

There are, for instance, roughly $6,000 in newly recorded debts to the consulting firm of the Santos campaign’s treasurer, Jason D. Boles. That’s his current campaign treasurer, to be clear.

Being in debt to your own treasurer, the person tasked with tallying your finances, is a dynamic that could charitably be described as … not great. And yet, in a brief phone interview on Tuesday, Santos told me that Boles is sticking by him. (Boles, for his part, said “no comment,” hung up on me midquestion about Santos, and didn’t answer my email query.)

“He’s still my treasurer, and I don’t think I need to express or explain to you what my strategy is moving forward to make sure I pay all my consultants,” Santos told me. “The one thing I can tell you is that everyone that’s ever worked for me has always gotten paid. Obviously, the circumstances here are a little extenuating, but yes, everybody will be paid eventually.”

On the one hand, it’s not unusual for political campaigns to continue filing FEC reports well after the actual campaigning has ceased; there are often debts and obligations left to pay—legal fees, consulting, media production, that sort of thing, said Robert Maguire, research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Campaign committees can use cash on hand, or solicit more contributions, to pay off prior debts.

On the other hand, the 2022 Santos campaign’s reported debts and obligations have grown larger since he won his race, a decidedly less normal situation. Of the $781,932.07 in debts and obligations currently owed, $630,000 are purported personal loans from Santos to his own campaign. When I first reached Santos and brought up debts and obligations, he assumed that that was what I was calling about. “Those are just loans of mine that are outstanding,” he responded.

I told him I was actually calling about the money his campaign owes to other people, much of which was undisclosed until the latter half of 2023—including to his former campaign manager ($4,000); a pair of field operators ($42,500); his treasurer ($6,015, a debt that was just incurred); his legal firm ($68,727.79); and his favorite restaurant, the Queens-based Italian joint Il Bacco ($10,000 for “catering services” dating back to Santos’ 2022 election night victory).

Most of the above, sans the lingering catering service costs, “would be somewhat routine if they were any other candidate,” Maguire said. But “when you have a campaign that has been mired in so much financial chaos, much of it remaining unresolved, it does raise some questions.”

One such question: Why would Boles, the treasurer (who works for a campaign consulting service called RTA Strategy Inc.), willingly partner up with George Santos, given his reputation? “You would think a seasoned campaign finance compliance person would’ve known what they were getting into,” Maguire said.

It’s not as if Boles’ predecessors left rave reviews of the job. Santos’ former campaign treasurer Nancy Marks pleaded guilty in October to a felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; she admitted to making up campaign donations for Santos, and said a $500,000 personal loan Santos supposedly gave to his campaign was fake, an attempt to make his candidacy look stronger. After Marks left, the Santos campaign briefly listed on its FEC filings another treasurer, Tom Datwyler, who quickly swore up and down that he never agreed to work with the volatile congressman. As with many Santos-related matters, there was much more to the story. According to the Daily Beast, Datwyler reportedly used a high school buddy named Andrew Olson to sign off as treasurer in his stead—a naked attempt to take the heat off Datwyler himself. Boles picked up the baton and conducted a campaign audit beginning in May 2023.

According to previous FEC filings, Boles’ firm was getting paid on time by the Santos campaign … until now. It can’t be reassuring for Boles that, on top of everything else, the 2022 Santos campaign is still refunding individual contributors—around $21,000 this most recent period—leaving almost zero margins to pay down debts. The 2022 campaign is now reporting just $6,290.60 cash on hand, which includes some leftover pocket change from another zombified campaign committee of Santos’ that dates back to his unsuccessful 2020 run.

Perhaps Boles, who’s also Marjorie Taylor Greene’s treasurer, is motivated by a patriotic sense of duty to help MAGA’s most obnoxious espousers, as some kind of exercise in “owning the libs.” Who knows how many more unpaid FEC filing cycles that sense of duty will last.

As for other debtees: Santos’ former campaign manager Gabrielle Lipsky did not respond to my email asking about the $4,000 she’s owed. The last time the Santos campaign paid down its debts to Lipsky was in September, when it cut a $3,500 check, leaving a $4,000 balance.

Then there’s Il Bacco. In late 2022, the Santos campaign said it paid the restaurant $8,000 in “outstanding debt.” But Boles first noted that there was $10,000 in remaining debt owed to Il Bacco—an amount labeled as “election night catering”—in an October 2023 filing with a parenthetical that reads: “TREASURER BECAME AWARE OF PRIOR DEBT IN CURRENT PERIOD.” (That parenthetical was employed seven times in total on the Santos campaign’s October filing, back when the Santos campaign was still paying its treasurer on time.)

I hoped Il Bacco ownership might talk to me about the Santos campaign’s owing the business at least $10,000 for at least a year and a half. Santos was a frequent patron of the restaurant and, mysteriously, repeatedly paid exactly $199.99 for meals during the 2021–22 campaign—just under the threshold where a receipt would be required by the FEC. Alas, Il Bacco’s owner, Joe Oppedisano, pleaded the Fifth when I called him, deferring all questions to Tina Maria Oppedisano, his daughter and the restaurant’s operations manager. I eventually reached Tina Maria, who politely informed me she simply cannot answer questions about Santos.

I tried to bring up Il Bacco to Santos, but he swiftly grew tired of my inquiries. “I’m going to ask you: Do you have anything else aside from trying to distort and sensationalize a campaign FEC report?” he rebutted. When I asked why he had just given a $400 donation to Rep. Lauren Boebert while not squaring up with his former campaign manager or treasurer or favorite restaurant, he replied: “My personal funds have nothing to do with campaign funds. Period.”

Technically—an extremely important qualifier when we’re talking about George Santos and his finances—he’s right. Campaign obligations and personal obligations are not one and the same. The problem for Santos is that although he might be able to forgive the personal loans he alleges to have contributed to his campaign, that doesn’t solve for the individuals and businesses who are still owed money. To pay down debts, money must materialize.

“I don’t understand how his response makes any sense,” Maguire told me. “If he’s not raising any money and his campaign is deep in debt, how is he going to retire that debt through his campaign? It’s not going to have donors anymore. It already has net-negative donors. If he thinks his new campaign is going to help, well, that one isn’t raising any money either.”

Maguire was careful to include a caveat in his analysis, which is that Donald Trump is facing even more felony charges than Santos, has his own well-trodden cash-flow issues, and “just had a record-smashing fundraising haul.”

Point being: Money can materialize in American politics. But if Santos has any hope of relieving his prior campaign debts, he’ll have to fundraise—and fundraise effectively. I’m skeptical of an actual Santos revival, given his bleak reputation among even fellow MAGA-world stars.

Still, “we have no idea what insanity awaits us,” Maguire said, speaking generally but also of Santos’ potential return to politics. “I have been doing this long enough to see people who, in a normal world should not be able to raise lots of money, then raise a lot of money.”

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