Sillitti proposes law to increase candidate oversight in wake of Santos’ lies

Sillitti proposes law to increase candidate oversight in wake of Santos’ lies
Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (Center) speaking on her legislation with State Senator John Liu (Right), and Susan Lerner (Left), Executive Director of Common Cause NY. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Gina Sillitti)

Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) introduced legislation that would require greater oversight of candidates and their background claims as well as strengthen candidate disclosure laws in the wake of the lies ousted Rep. George Santos campaigned on.

“As we all know, George Santos lied about every aspect of his résumé while running for office, and in doing so not only destroyed the public’s trust in our political system but also left us effectively without any representation in Congress for nearly a year,” Sillitti said. “This can’t happen again.”

The bill, also being introduced by state Sen. John Liu, would require New York State candidates to sign a sworn statement affirming their claims of military service, employment history, educational background and current residence and that they meet their residency requirements for the office they are seeking.

The sworn statements would then be posted to the candidates’ Board of Elections website 15 days after they submit their petition for candidacy. If they fail to submit the sworn statements, then the law would require a posting on the website stating that they did not submit it.

The legislation’s requirement for sworn statements would place candidates under penalty of perjury if they misrepresented their background, while failure to submit the statement would carry a penalty of $1,000 with an additional $25 each succeeding day. Penalties would not be able to be paid with campaign finances.

Sillitti said the purpose of her and Liu’s legislation is to “restore the voters’ trust in the political process and ensure candidates are held accountable for their statements on the campaign trail.”

“Voters expect – at the very least – the people running to represent them are who they say they are,” Executive Director of Common Cause/NY Susan Lerner said. “That’s why Sen. Liu and Assembly Member Sillitti’s newly revised bill is important: It raises the accountability bar for candidates and makes it harder for candidates who lack integrity– like Mr. Santos – to defraud New York voters. We’re hopeful lawmakers will pass this bill swiftly come January so no future candidate bamboozles the public again.”

The New York State lawmakers announced the legislation at a rally with Common Cause/NY Friday, which was held in front of Santos’ former congressional office in Queens.

Santos was expelled from Congress on Dec. 1, following a House Ethics report from investigators that found “substantial evidence” Santos violated federal law and sought to “fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”

The report stated that Santos used campaign funds for personal purposes, defrauded donors and filed false or incomplete campaign and financial disclosures. Investigators also contended that his campaign was maintained “through a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience.”

Santos claimed to have graduated from New York University with an MBA and a bachelor of economics and finance from Baruch College, yet a 2021 vulnerability report found that his name was not in the records at either school’s registrar office.

He also maintained that he worked for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, but a Citigroup spokesperson told The New York Times that his employment could not be confirmed.

Santos later confirmed the falsehoods when he told the New York Post he “embellished” parts of his resume when running for Congress.

“Former Congressman Santos’ deceitful actions throughout his campaign were repugnant and unacceptable,” state Sen, Tony Ann Stavisky said. “While I am pleased Congress expelled him, we must take action to safeguard against fraudulent candidates moving forward.”

Santos is facing a 23-count indictment, along with a superseding 10-count indictment  delivered to him in October following his initial May indictment and arrest. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

His original 13-count indictment from May included seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The 10 new charges Santos is accused of included one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of lying to the Federal Election Commission, two counts of falsifying records, two counts of aggravated identify theft and one count of device fraud.

Santos’ trial is set for September 2024.

His ex-campaign aide and ex-campaign treasurer have pleaded guilty to crimes associated with Santos’ campaign.

Former campaign aide Samuel Miele, 27, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and admitted to impersonating former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s former chief of staff, Dan Meyer, as part of a plea deal,  Miele is facing upwards of 20 years in prison.

Ex-campaign treasurer Nancy Marks, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Santos to commit wire fraud, make materially false statements, obstruct the administration of the Federal Election Commission and commit aggravated identity theft.

“It is imperative for our democracy that the George Santos brand of politics ends with his expulsion from Congress,” Liu said. “Candidates for elected office are applying for a job just like anyone else, but George Santos fantasized that his position gave him license to lie, cheat and defraud the American people like a common scam artist.”

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