Jorge Santos has never made a major financial disclosure. Enforcement has been lax for years.
The vast majority of candidates who fail to file financial returns on time have not been charged with wrongdoing. In many cases, they are first-time candidates who may be inexperienced in the federal system. But the fact that such violations are rarely reported and penalties essentially non-existent makes it easier for candidates like Santos to avoid revealing key financial information, ethics experts say.
“Failure to implement some appropriate and robust procedures for these rules really invites them to be ignored,” said Meredith McGee, a longtime ethicist and veteran of several nonprofit organizations in Washington.
In the wake of the allegations against Santos, other members of the House of Representatives introduced bills aimed at prevent him from making a profit Of his campaign lies and asks the candidates for the future Provide accurate information about their work history. But there has been little reckoning about lax enforcement of existing laws intended to give voters transparency.
Santos, who recently He filed papers to run again in 2024He is facing investigations from local and federal prosecutors, but he has denied breaking any laws and has not been charged with a crime. Asked about the financial disclosures, the Santos congressional office said it could not legally comment on campaign-related matters. His personal attorney, Joe Murray, said it would be “inappropriate to comment on an open investigation”.
Missing deadlines and missing forms
Congressional candidates required Under federal law to file a personal financial return once you raise or spend more than $5,000 for a House election. In odd-numbered years, the form is due by May 15, or within 30 days of the candidate raising that amount, whichever comes second, although there is a 30-day grace period before the candidate is subject to a penalty. In election years, filing is due by May 15 or 30 days before the primary. (Late deposits are subject to a $200 fine, with other penalties possible but rare.)
The requirement for candidates to provide financial disclosures dates back to a 1978 law intended to identify conflicts of interest and prevent members from using congressional office for personal gain.
Santos, who has begun fundraising for a potential 2022 campaign in the wake of losing in 2020 to the then-rep. Tom Sozzi (DN.Y.) should have filed a financial return in May 2021. This form may have provided information about how the congressman ultimately went from saying he had no assets in 2020 to reporting he was worth millions of dollars in 2022 , assuming he provided it accurately.
But Santos did not file a fiscal return for 2021, according to the Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives. His 2022 disclosure wasn’t filed until September, after the New York primary and several months after the deadline, even though Santos had yet to tie with the GOP opponent.
Donald Sherman, senior vice president and senior advisor at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit organization, said Censor. raised concerns About Santos’ access to classified information. “The only question that remains will they deal with it?”
A reveal in late 2022 and a no reveal in 2021 are now subject to ethical complaint That House Democrats. Dan Goldman And Richie Torres, both from New York, against Santos in January. They are among a number of allegations under review by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, which They unanimously voted to investigate Santos Last month.
under Federal lawCandidates could face civil penalty or criminal charges for personal financial disclosure if they “knowingly and intentionally” fail to file a false report on time or file a false report. Generally, this enforcement has only occurred in the context of larger corruption investigations.
They will not deal with losers
There are a range of reasons why candidates may be late in submitting forms. The main reason given by the candidates is that they were not aware of the requirements. Campaign fundraising, which leads to the requirement to file a personal financial return, is reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which is different from the congressional office where financial forms must be filed. Ethics experts acknowledged that navigating the barrage of forms needed to run for Congress can be difficult for first-time candidates who may not have an experienced staff.
Many of the candidates who fail to provide financial disclosures are political stakeholders who were unable to approach the election. Of the more than three dozen candidates identified by Politico who missed financial disclosure deadlines in 2021 or 2022, the majority either lost the primary or were in a general election to be decided by more than 20 points.
“The Ethics Committee tends to take the position that it will not deal with losers because its jurisdiction is over members of Congress,” McGee said.
But a few first-time candidates have been elected to Congress despite the lack of financial disclosures, including Santos and the vice president. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), which fails to file It was reported for the first time at NewsChannel 5 in Nashville in January. Ogles eventually submitted the form A few days after the local news report, more than eight months after the deadline. Ogles He also faces questions about the money he raised through GoFundMe 2014. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Ogles is not the only candidate who has submitted the required forms after attracting scrutiny from their opponents or the local media. For example, file The Dallas Morning News reported Last October that rep now. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) and its Republican opponent have not met financial disclosure deadlines. Crockett, who would win the election by more than 50 points in a Democratic-majority district, submitted the forms in October after the newspaper’s inquiry, and indicated at the time that she had provided state financial disclosures that were more comprehensive than Congress. requirements. Early congressional primaries in Texas also complicate deadlines for candidates in the state.
When candidates fail to file returns, voters lose out on the ability to make the best-informed decision, said Danielle Caputo, legal advisor for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog group.
“It kind of defeats the purpose of being able to choose to represent you if you don’t really know who they really are,” she said. “And financial disclosure reports are definitely part of a person’s profile.”