A recent search of donors who contributed to Rep. George Santos‘s (R-NY) failed 2020 campaign suggests many of the names may have been fabricated out of thin air, putting Santos in a perilous legal position with both the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the Department of Justice now investigating the truth-averse GOP congressman’s finances.
When Mother Jones reached out to donors listed on the campaign reports, many were surprised because they had never donated to the freshman congressman.
Of the nearly four dozen people who made the max contribution to Santos in 2020, nine couldn’t be located.
“None had ever contributed to a candidate before sending Santos the maximum amount allowed, according to FEC records. Nor have any of these donors contributed since,” Mother Jones wrote.
Each of the filings listed the suspicious donors as “retired.”
In one instance, the names Jonathan and Victoria Regor were used on contributions of $2,800 each – the maximum allowed – but an investigation found no one with those names living in the country.
Raising more questions is the fact that their Jackson Township, New Jersey address couldn’t be verified.
SCOOP! Many top donors to @Santos4Congress' 2020 campaigns, uh, don't seem to exist. @nlanard and I tried to contact these donors and found addresses and names that could not be confirmed. Please read/share. https://t.co/KhWD7rlVOh
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 28, 2023
A $2,500 donation attributed to retiree Stephen Berger also came up empty.
While the Brawley, California address claimed for Berger on the disclosure is real, the longtime resident at that address — a man named William Brandt — denies having any connection to George Santos or Berger.
“William Brandt, a prominent rancher and Republican donor, told Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years,” Noah Lanard and Davi Corn wrote. “Neither he nor his wife have made any donations to George Santos.”
Brandt claims that Berger has never lived at the Brawley home, and denies knowing the man altogether.
Donating money in another person’s name, referred to as a “contribution in the name of another,” violates campaign finance law and is patently illegal.
According to Saurav Ghosh, the director for federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, “It’s something that is explicitly prohibited under federal law.”
The donations – all made through the right-wing payment processor, Win Red – are subject to refunds if made illegally.
Campaign finance attorney, Brett Kappel, said it’s the responsibility of the campaign treasurer to insure that donations meet the appropriate guidelines.
“If the treasurer determines that a contribution was made illegally in the name of another person,” Kappel said, “the treasurer is supposed to refund the contribution.”
This may present a problem for the representative, after reports that the person listed as campaign treasure on the disclosures never actually accepted the job.
To his surprise, Thomas Datwyler was named as Rep. Santos’ new treasurer and custodian of records – replacing longtime financial employee Nancy Marks – and Datwyler’s name was quickly added to fundraising announcements.
“Datwyler said through a lawyer, Derek Ross, that he had declined the job and was not aware that he would be listed as treasurer on the campaign’s filings, which included what it said was his electronic signature, along with his email and mailing addresses” WFLA NBC 8 reported.
Out of the $338,000 collected from individual donors during the 2020 campaign cycle, the Santos campaign has over $30,000 in questionable contributions.
A firestorm of controversy has surrounded the New York Republican since The New York Times broke a story in December – shortly before the new session of Congress began –detailing a litany of lies told by Santos during his candidacy.
Santo’s resume was exposed – showing inconsistencies, contradictions, and blatant untruths on everything from his education, career, finances, and family.
As more falsehoods were revealed, calls from Santos’ local Republican Party members for the habitually lying congressman to resign increased.
But Rep. Santos refuses as the lies in his fundraising report have inspired the Justice Department to take a keen interest in his finances.
Santos is alleged to have used the name of the Brazilian soccer player, Rafael Da Silva in one contribution, and in another the name of a prominent New York physician who has a record of donating to Democratic campaigns.
A former friend confirms making a small donation to Santos in 2020 but denies making one as large as the $2,800 maximum that was attributed to him.
Though his information was correct on the WinRed website for the initial contribution, the second one listed his place of employment as a defunct hand sanitizer business that was in partnership with the congressman.
Rep. Santos allegedly “warned” his friend not to talk to the press.
“I’m letting my legal team handle this stuff,” Santos texted the unnamed source. “I’ve never been involved in the financial aspect or the filing aspects of the campaign.”
The more we know about Santos – the less we realize that we actually know anything true.
On Thursday the FEC sent a letter to the congressman’s campaign and fundraising committees seeking additional information regarding the seemingly sudden change in treasurers.
The communication suggests that the first-term lawmaker “may have failed to include the true, correct, or complete treasurer information,” in his filings naming Datwyler as treasurer the day before.
Mother Jones’ findings that multiple donors appear to be fabricated come at a time when the embattled con man appears to be without a treasurer at all. Datwyler apparently dodged a bullet by distancing himself from Rep. Santos’ campaign financials – and not a moment too soon.
The DOJ reportedly has asked the FEC to pause its investigation of Santos’ campaign finances while it looks at whether criminal charges are appropriate.
Original reporting by Noah Lanard and David Corn at Mother Jones.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick