A watchdog group has accused Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who was arraigned at a Long Island federal courthouse on fraud charges this afternoon, of fabricating his campaign treasurer’s identity.
According to a complaint released on Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is requesting that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) investigate their allegations about the treasurer and the freshman congressman for potentially violating the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).
The complaint argues that there is reason to believe that Andrew Olson, Santos’s current treasurer, does not exist.
“Mr. Olson is not and has not been identified as a treasurer to any political committee outside of those connected to Representative Santos,” the complaint said. “No one asked about it appears to know Mr. Olson, including those knowledgeable of political committee treasurers and New York Republican politics.”
They also note that the address listed on the FEC forms used to belong to Santos’s sister. Olson has reportedly not responded to any of CREW’s attempts to contact him through the means provided in the filings. He has also not responded to multiple requests for comment from TPM.
“Given his struggles with the truth, much about Rep. Santos remains a mystery, but there’s no bigger mystery than his treasurer,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “No one can seem to find Andrew Olson. If he does not exist, it would be an extreme abuse of our campaign finance system—one the FEC should not permit.”
Olson was allegedly hired by Santos in February, after the FEC warned him that he couldn’t handle his campaign funds without a treasurer and after it became clear that the person he supposedly hired to replace his previous treasurer had never agreed to the job.
“It is required that for any committee to conduct any business, they must have an active treasurer,” the FEC wrote in a Feb. 14 letter. “Failure to appoint a treasurer will result in the inability of the committee to accept contributions and make disbursements.”
The agency noted in that letter that a new treasurer must be appointed within ten days after the last one resigned.
His last official treasurer was Nancy Marks, a veteran GOP operative who’d worked in New York politics for years. After being swept up in the scandal surrounding the congressman’s dubious background and finance dealings, she quietly resigned from her position in January.
She was replaced on Santos’s FEC filings by Thomas Datwyler, another longtime campaign finance consultant. But on Jan. 27, Datwyler’s attorney sent the FEC a series of letters clarifying that Datwyler had never taken the position.
So, Olson’s name appeared on the filings about a month later, with only an email and home address to identify him.
In a Jan. 26 letter, the FEC warned Santos that “knowingly and willfully making any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” to the agency is punishable under federal law.
“I’ve seen a lot studying and working on these issues, but that’s a new one: for a sitting congressman to have an imaginary friend as his treasurer,” Brennan Center campaign finance expert and former FEC senior counsel Daniel Weiner told TPM.
He said that most sitting officeholders deal with issues around misuse of campaign funds. The accusations CREW has levied against Santos, however, enter a different realm.
“It’s kind of a different ballgame in this case, where you’re dealing more with outright fraud,” he said.
The New York Republican’s campaign funds have been a subject of much scrutiny since the New York Times first published their bombshell exposé in December. An unnamed former operative told TPM back in January that looking through the campaign’s finances left them with many questions.
“I thought that the lack of a financial disclosure, the messiness of the books, and the reporting were not great,” the operative said.
Notably, several charges in the 13-count indictment against Santos have to do with these sketchy details. Prosecutors allege, for example, that Santos used money solicited for his congressional race on personal expenses, like luxury designer clothing and credit card payments, and that he misrepresented his assets in two House financial disclosure reports.
But CREW’s complaint notes that the treasurer is responsible for ensuring that his campaign filings are accurate.
“If there is not a treasurer to take responsibility, that undercuts our whole system of accountability,” Bookbinder said. “This must be immediately investigated.”