Santos funding shows need for campaign spending reform

Thank George Santos for that: he shows everyone the ridiculousness of how we spend money in politics.

Before the depths of his resume deceptions became clear — and long before his team frantically began releasing updated documents this week — he had already pulled off plenty of hair-raising financial feats without fear of future punishment.

He spent tens of thousands of dollars on hotels, restaurants and even what he described as “staff apartment rentals” for a house he appeared to have lived in. Did small donors want their money to fund trips to Orlando, Las Vegas, or the Trump International Hotel in Washington? It’s a model Santos started early, paying for an Airbnb and a laptop from a “recount” fund created the day after Election Day 2020, even though he lost to Rep. Tom Suozzi by nearly 50,000 votes.

He donated funds to obscure and newly created corporations, and sometimes those affiliated with those corporations in turn donated to his vast universe of political entities. This circular relationship seems to benefit both sides, but does it energize its constituents? The most glaring concern is that Santos or his family could directly benefit from his own spending. In a disturbing example, a Santos-affiliated state PAC that received campaign money from donors also donated thousands of dollars to Santos’ sister, Tiffany.

In these practices, Santos pushes the envelope to breaking point. But he is not alone among political practitioners who easily profit from the large sums of money spent on races each year. Political firms he has paid include those firmly established in Long Island politics, such as Donald Trump’s pollster McLaughlin & Associates (misspelled in Santos’ documents), Karin Murphy’s Campaign Strategy & Consulting firm, and various companies associated with Shirley’s campaign treasurer Nancy Marks, who has worked for dozens of candidates, including former Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Santos has worked closely with Marks, whose businesses have earned more than $170,000 from John Cummings, a Republican who ran against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2020 and raised more than $11 million in contributions before being destroyed at the polls.

Pros get paid, win or lose. Voters might think about the benefit of all that money.

There are ways to start taming the system, for Santos and for everyone else. More enforcement is needed, starting with the Federal Election Commission, whose civil penalties are slaps on the wrist often applied years after the fact. More power should be given to commission staff to timely investigate matters such as the conversion of campaign funds for personal use. Federal prosecutors should aggressively pursue charges for fraudulent schemes, and the stricter the limits on political fundraising and spending, the better.

Opening the curtain, Santos shows how easy it is to exploit the system.

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS are experienced journalists who offer reasoned, fact-based opinions to encourage informed debate on the issues facing our community.

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