TPM Reader LC asks the following and I’ll try to answer …
I’m loving your coverage of George Santos in NY-3, and I’m wondering: Why are we only hearing about all this now? Don’t political candidates do oppo research? Obviously none of that was done, not even a little bit, since George Santos’s entire identity would collapse in the face of a not particularly vigorous sneeze. My question for you or your readers who may know – who is normally responsible for making sure oppo research happens? Is that the candidates themselves (Robert Zimmerman in this case), or DNC/RNC.
The first thing I would say is that contrary to what some readers are telling me, this part of the story is hardly being ignored. It’s almost the first part of every discussion I hear about this. For some it’s a failure of the Democratic Party; for others it’s a failure of journalism, gutted local news and so forth. But I want to start on the question itself: who is responsible for making sure the oppo research happens?
The basic responsibility is in the hands of the candidate, Democrat Robert Zimmerman. A campaign is mostly responsible for researching their opponent. In a serious race, each campaign has a binder of research on the opposing candidate. And it is up to them to produce it. But it’s not quite that simple. There are various party committees — in this case mainly the DCCC (the House campaign committee) and the New York State Democratic Party. It’s not that those committees are responsible for doing the opposition research. But they are responsible for making sure their candidates know what they’re doing, are running solid campaigns.
Sometimes the DCCC (or its counterpart the NRCC) will recruit a top candidate from the start. Sometimes the party primary goes to someone who is kind of an unknown, or even someone the party committee didn’t favor. Then there’s usually a process of getting integrated with the national campaign. Party leaders may help a rookie campaign bring in some more seasoned staff, etc. In other words, the party committees are supposed to keep tabs on their candidates in the important races and make sure they’ve got a handle on things. In this case, the DCCC did compile materials on Santos. But they focus very little on his shifting life story, much more on his support for Trump and MAGA policies. Cook rated NY-3 a Dem-leaning toss up. So it was definitely an important race. So really to the extent this was a failure there’s a lot of failure to spread around. The campaign, the DCCC, the state Democratic Party and various other groups and individual stakeholders.
So basically, total failure and everyone is on the line for it.
The other side of the story is the press story. Many of you have said, why didn’t the Times report this in October? This gets mixed in with the costs of the death of local news in the age of the Internet. But that part doesn’t quite fit. New York City has three big newspapers. Long Island has its own newspaper. The outer boroughs each have newspapers of various sizes, some small and niche, others pretty substantial. Then there’s Politico NY, there’s The City, there’s Gothamist and WNYC. The New York metropolitan area is that rare American region that is flooded with news organizations. And not just national news organizations that are based here but news organizations that cover the region.
And that’s where things got interesting. Post reporter Azi Paybarah has been posting various updates on the evolving story. He’s noted a number of cases where a lot of this stuff was reported before the election. Zimmerman told Paybarah that he’d known Santos was a crook and a liar and had been saying as much but that it had just all gotten drowned out by the governor’s race and the campaign’s relentless focus on crime. I don’t know how that campaign was run. So I don’t know whether that’s real or just after-the-fact excuse-making.
But Paybarah also flagged reporting in The North Shore Leader. That’s the local paper for the district, which is made up of a string of fairly affluent bedroom communities on the west side of the North Shore of Long Island. I was gobsmacked to see their editorial endorsing Zimmerman. They start by saying “This newspaper would like to endorse a Republican for U.S. Congress in NY-3. But the GOP nominee — George Santos — is so bizarre, unprincipled and sketchy that we cannot.” (I guess it’s a GOP-leaning ed board but everyone’s got their limits.) They then go on to regale us with Santos’ various lies and nonsense, his non-existent “mansions,” his role in the Ponzi scheme, all sorts of questions about his finances. They openly question whether he actually loaned $600,000 to his campaign as he claimed. They didn’t have the fake jobs and college degree. But they knew about a ton.
The mansions thing is a new one to me. He claimed to own mansions in the Hamptons and in Oyster Bay. The paper checked and they were owned by other people.
Then there’s this article from a few days earlier which is where they first reported the mansion bamboozlement. They also caught the fact that his $600,000 loan to his campaign, which he disclosed on his FEC disclosure and discussed publicly, didn’t show up somehow on his 2022 personal financial disclosure. They’ve been pressing for a while that they don’t think he ever loaned the campaign that money. There’s more. But you get the idea.
The local paper has been reporting on his various lies, fake claims of wealth and even saying he may be a flight risk (he claims to be a dual citizen) if he’s charged with a crime over falsifying federal records. Very reasonably they now have a lengthy article of the “We told you so” variety in which they say, hey, don’t blame us! We were telling you this dude was a crook and bringing the receipts long before the election. And they make a pretty good case. Before the election they called him “a Fabulist — a Fake…” who makes “fantasy claims and lies to everyone.” As the Leader puts it, rather than the high flying financier he claims to be, “Santos is really just a petty criminal from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [where he is currently wanted] on criminal charges of committing elder fraud and check forgery.”
I don’t know quite where this leaves things. That’s how oppo is supposed to work. It’s hard to see where Zimmerman’s campaign didn’t drop the ball in a big way though conceivably he was saying this stuff and just couldn’t rise above the din of the governor’s race. Others will have to sort that out. The DCCC certainly dropped the ball too if they didn’t carpet bomb the district with ads about all this guy’s nonsense. But the local paper … well, they were on this guy’s case like flies on shit. I think that’s the best way to put it.