The top line seems simple enough: more than $28,000 raised, about $43,000 spent, and $28,000 or so cash on hand. But an autopsy of George Santos’ latest campaign finance filing reveals what experts are calling “a colossal mess” and a “chaotic state of affairs.”
With the near-daily developments in Santos’ ongoing saga of scandals, a routine campaign report covering just one month of activity may not seem noteworthy. But underneath some pretty standard numbers are some truly incredible disclosures.
Mysterious FedEx overnights from Nashville, Tennessee. Lavish meals in Palm Beach and Washington, D.C. Contributions from people tied to his corporate clients (one of them far above the legal limit). A curiously pricey hotel stay in Memphis. And more than $100,000 in debt, now vanished. All provided in a filing from a spanking new treasurer with apparently no federal experience, and who still hasn’t registered with the Federal Election Commission.
The campaign’s year-end report, which was submitted on Tuesday, also bridges a period of cataclysmic change for Santos—from Nov. 29 to Dec. 31, when he fell from triumphant young conservative outsider to disgraced liar, late-night comedy punching bag, and subject of multiple criminal investigations.
Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, called the filing “a colossal mess,” and Brendan Fischer, campaign finance law expert and deputy executive director of watchdog group Documented, described it as “weird” and “another baffling set of reporting oddities from the Santos campaign.”
Jordan Libowitz, communications director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, slammed it as “somehow more of a mess.”
“Going into this filing, George Santos’ campaign finances were about as chaotic a state of affairs as we’ve ever seen from a member of Congress. Any hope that a new treasurer would clean them up was immediately dashed as they became somehow more of a mess,” Libowitz said.
It starts with the mysterious new treasurer name, Andrew Olson, who replaced Santos’ old campaign accountant, professional treasurer Nancy Marks, after a week of what passes for high drama in the typically mundane world of campaign finance.
Where Marks has handled the books for dozens of committees, including former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Olson appears to be a newbie. His name does not appear tied to any other committees in the FEC database, and campaign filings have still not officially named him treasurer.
Notably, Olson’s name wasn’t on any of the year-end reports filed by Santos’ many other political committees that same day. Those were still signed by Marks, even though she had already resigned.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast that Marks has lawyered up. Her attorney has not replied to requests for comment.
By default, the FEC website now lists Santos as his own campaign treasurer, following Marks’ resignation hours before the Tuesday filing deadline. (The listed address belongs to Santos’ sister, who Pay Dirt previously reported currently faces eviction; Santos claims he moved out of her place in early January, but has not provided proof.)
“The treasurer situation is still in flux,” Ghosh noted. “We have this guy Andrew Olson—whoever that is—signing the report as treasurer, but he apparently hasn’t yet filed a Form 1, a statement that lists him as a treasurer. For the time being, we can assume that’s forthcoming.”
Ghosh observed that the filing is littered with signs of inexperience.
“Obviously, one sign of a very inexperienced treasurer is the $10,000 contribution from Michael Hastava,” Ghosh said, pointing out that the treasurer should have quickly recognized the amount as being thousands of dollars over the legal max and taken steps to reallocate or explain the contribution. (However, the campaign did redesignate money from another donor who contributed $500 above the primary election limit.)
“Either he didn’t give the $10,000, or he gave an impermissible amount,” said Ghosh, whose organization targeted a number of serious apparent violations in an FEC complaint against Santos last month.
Hastava, who apparently made the contribution the day after Santos first publicly admitted to some of his lies, lists his employer as the Hastava-Whitmore Group, a New York-area insurance broker. That group recently merged with Acrisure, the national insurance behemoth which Santos previously told The Daily Beast that—despite his inability to spell the conglomerate’s name—was nonetheless a client of his enigmatic “capital introduction” company, the Devolder Organization. That Daily Beast report also identified another big Santos donor, the Whitmore Group’s James Metzger, as tied to Acrisure.
“The fact that it’s linked to one of his clients makes it a little more interesting, doesn’t it? Though there’s nothing explicitly wrong or improper with a client donating to support a business partner’s candidacy,” Ghosh said.
In fact, three of the six individual donors listed on the filing are tied to clients.
Another Acrisure partner, Mineola-based insurer Robert Mangi—a major Santos booster—contributed $2,900 on Dec. 18. Still another Santos client, Mayra Ruiz of Miami, Florida, donated $2,900 that day, though the filing didn’t list her employer or occupation despite the campaign’s “best efforts.” But the campaign canceled out most of that donation with a staggering $1,700 meal expense that same day, at Palm Beach Italian restaurant Bice, described online as an “Upscale mini-chain Italian eatery in an elegant ladies-who-lunch setting with a courtyard.”
If Santos enjoyed the meal, it would be one of his last before the clouds descended—at least publicly. The next day, The New York Times dropped the bombshell report that he fabricated key facts about his life, in the process raising serious questions about the source of millions of dollars he claimed to have earned through the Devolder Organization.
The campaign filing also reveals a gift from a reluctant political ally, who after that report has once again distanced themselves from the embattled congressman. That would be a $5,000 contribution from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a hybrid PAC aligned with House GOP officials.
Last month, CNN reported that CLF’s president, Dan Conston, was reportedly one of a handful of Republicans who had expressed concerns to donors about Santos ahead of the revelations. The CLF, which hadn’t previously given Santos any money, earmarked the gift, from Nov. 29, “for debt retirement.” (Santos’ leadership PAC just returned a $2,900 contribution from fellow New York Republican congressman Anthony D’Esposito.)
A CLF spokesperson didn’t reply to a request for comment.
About that debt, though.
It appears that more than $100,000 in debt has vanished from the campaign’s ledgers, perhaps in error. In a prior report filed late last year, the Santos campaign disclosed owing about $113,000 to a handful of people and entities, mostly in the form of bonuses to consultants and campaign staff.
Notably, the Santos campaign currently reports only $28,115.92 in the bank—nowhere near enough money to cover that debt, and that’s before taking into account the $705,000 allegedly loaned from Santos.
But when Nancy Marks filed an amended version of that report last week—in which she claimed a $125,000 “loan from the candidate” had not come from Santos’ “personal funds”— those debts vanished. The report did not include language about forgiveness or any matching payments that would have canceled the debts, and neither does the new filing.
However, the new filing does include an $8,000 payment to Santos’ favorite Italian restaurant, Il Bacco, as “payment towards outstanding debt.” But the filing does not itemize the debt it is partially paying down. (The campaign had previously said it owed Il Bacco $18,773.54 for an “election night event.”)
“Again, that’s just terrible accounting and reporting, to simply lose track of debt like that,” Ghosh said. “If it’s a payment for outstanding debt, that makes sense, but it’s for Il Bacco and Santos is cozy with the owners there. That’s more of an optics thing, but the unreported debt is a problem. That’s further indication that this person really doesn’t know what they’re doing and unfortunately in some ways is making the terrible reporting done by Marks much worse.”
The campaign’s expenses also raised eyebrows.
The filing shows that over the last month of the year, the Santos operation dropped large sums of donor money on airfare, steakhouse dining, Ubers, and hotels. The spending included about $5,000 for two stays at the Intercontinental Hotel in southwest D.C., and a $645 payment on Dec. 10 to the Hilton Memphis, far from Santos’ Long Island realm.
About a week before racking up the Hilton expense, someone used the campaign account over the course of two days to blast out a flurry of “overnight envelopes” from a FedEx station in Nashville, about 200 miles to the east. The numerous expenses were consistent, in amounts of $33.85 and $45.30.
Fischer, of Documented, told The Daily Beast that the Tennessee expenses, while not improper on their face, merited scrutiny.
“From a legal perspective, campaign funds may only be used to support a candidate’s run for office or official duties. It would be illegal to pay for a personal trip with campaign funds,” Fischer said.
Fischer acknowledged that candidates and staffers often travel to raise money, but he said that wouldn’t seem a neat fit in this case. Santos raised little money in the final months of 2022, and none of it came from Tennessee, whose residents contributed less than $10,000 combined to the Santos campaign.
“My understanding is that the period after a new officeholder is elected is a bit of a whirlwind,” Fischer said, pointing to new member orientations, networking in Washington, and “the daunting task of hiring staff and building out your offices both in D.C. and your own district.”
“While all of this is going on, it seems exceptionally weird to take an extended trip hundreds of miles outside of your district,” he said. “It is hard to see how that travel pertains to your campaign or officeholder duties,” he added, noting that the personal use ban also applies to improper staffer expenses.
Personal use violations are among the allegations in the CLC’s complaint to the FEC. But last week, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ has asked the FEC to stand down, which The Daily Beast can now confirm.
“Under normal circumstances, these kinds of reporting issues would trigger a notice from FEC analysts,” Fischer said. “But these may not be normal circumstances. If the DOJ is investigating, then the FEC might not send one.”
—Sam Brodey contributed to this report.