(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Election Commission is asking embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., to clarify by March 14 if he’s running again in 2024, according to a letter sent by the agency.
The letter, sent to Santos on Tuesday, noted that his primary campaign committee, Devolder-Santos for Congress, reported raising and spending funds for the 2024 election, triggering a requirement for officially declaring a reelection campaign.
The letter comes after the Santos campaign, which lost its longtime treasurer last month amid questions regarding the source and use of his campaign funds, reported in its latest disclosure filing more than a dozen contributions amounting to $28,000 and expenditures amounting to $43,000 that are dated after the November election day and attributed to the 2024 primary and general election.
“You must either disavow these activities by notifying the Commission in writing that you are not a candidate, or redesignate your principal campaign committee by filing a Statement of Candidacy,” the FEC wrote in the letter.
A spokesperson for Santos’ congressional office declined to comment when reached by ABC News. Asked last month if he was planning to run for reelection, Santos said, “That’s too early. I told you, I just got here.”
Under federal election law, candidates must file a statement of candidacy to the FEC if they raise or spend more than $5,000 for an election.
It’s not uncommon for newly elected officials to raise more than the $5,000 threshold immediately after a successful contest — usually to pay off debts from the previous election cycle or to build a war chest for their reelection campaign.
But the freshman New York congressman, whose campaign didn’t report any debt in its latest filing, now finds himself in the position of having to either declare his 2024 candidacy in the midst of a political firestorm, or clarify that those contributions and expenditures were not for the 2024 candidacy within 35 days of the receipt of the letter.
Members of both parties have asked Santos to resign after he was caught fabricating large swaths of his background, and he is being investigated by the New York attorney general, federal prosecutors in New York, the Nassau and Queens County district attorney’s offices, and the FBI, according to previous ABC News reporting.
Santos has acknowledged and apologized for lying about parts of his background, but has maintained that he was only embellishing his resume and has stated that he is not a criminal.
Santos can easily remedy the FEC issue by filing a new statement of candidacy, said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert and the deputy executive director of the government watchdog group Documented.
“But given the level of scrutiny and criticism that Santos has been receiving, he might make some political waves once he complies with the FEC’s request and formally declares his 2024 candidacy,” Fischer told ABC News.
Adding to the complication, the Santos campaign, which filed its latest disclosure at the end of last month amid an apparent lack of a treasurer, included a disclaimer in the report that it was “filed based on the limited information provided to the campaign from the previous treasurer Nancy Marks.”
Several campaign finance experts contacted by ABC News described Santos’ most recent filing as “sloppy” and “messy,” pointing to donations that are far over the federal campaign contribution limit of $2,900 per election and the seemingly inconsistent reporting of his campaign debt.
“What’s interesting is that the god-awful reporting that Santos’ campaign has done appears to indicate that they don’t have any campaign debt,” said Saurav Ghosh, former enforcement attorney at the FEC and now director of federal campaign finance reform at Campaign Legal Center. “So the inference from that is that the money he’s taking in can’t be for the purpose of retiring existing debts, as he’s not claiming he has any.”
“The funny thing here is that this should be as simple as saying officially that I’m running for reelection, here’s my statement of candidacy,” Ghosh said. “But nothing’s simple with Santos, right?”
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