Rep. George Santos’ campaign paid for legal services, Italian food amid scandal • OpenSecrets

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Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) leaves the Capitol Hill Club as members of the press follow him on January 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The campaign for troubled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) disclosed an $8,000 payment towards an “outstanding debt” to an Italian restaurant in Queens, $3,000 for legal services and a new treasurer on its year-end report to the Federal Election Commission, a new OpenSecrets analysis found. 

Santos’ campaign did not report returning any contributions between Nov. 29 and Dec. 31, 2022, amid fallout around a Dec. 19 investigation by the New York Times that alleged Santos had fabricated most of his background and resume.

Santos flipped New York’s 3rd Congressional District during the 2022 election, helping Republicans secure a slim majority in the U.S. House. But Santos is now being investigated by several government authorities for alleged personal or campaign finance malfeasance, and numerous complaints were filed with the Department of Justice, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the FEC after Santos’ false claims called attention to unusual campaign finance disclosures and financial dealings. 

The freshman congressman voluntarily stepped down from his committee assignments on Tuesday, the first major concession he has made to critics since the scandal broke.

The year-end campaign finance report shows Santos paid $3,000 to Dickinson Wright LLC for legal services on Dec. 21, 2022, two days after the New York Times published its exposé. The firm did not respond to OpenSecrets’ request for comment.

Santos’ campaign also reported an $8,000 payment to Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant frequented by the congressman. Santos’ campaign reported paying $14,657 to Il Bacco though Nov. 28 of the 2022 cycle, including seven payments of $199.99, one cent below the $200 threshold that would require him to hold onto his receipts. Santos reported 40 such payments during the 2022 election cycle, which POLITICO dubbed “statistically improbable.” 

The Santos campaign’s year-end report does not contain any additional payments of $199.99.

The restaurant’s owner, Joe Oppedisano, donated a total of $4,750 to Santos’ 2022 and 2020 congressional campaigns. Despite spending thousands of dollars at Il Bacco, the Santos campaign listed Oppedisano’s employer and occupation as “Best Efforts” when reporting a $1,750 contribution from Oppedisano in September 2022. 

Oppedisano’s brother, Rocco, also previously contributed $500 to Santos, a contribution the Daily Beast called “almost certainly illegal” given that Rocco is an Italian foreign national who was expelled from the U.S. in 2019 after confessing to smuggling undocumented migrants.

The Santos campaign also reported paying $4,094 to Gabrielle Lipsky, the press secretary for Santos’ campaign who joined his congressional office in January as press secretary and office manager.

Not all staff transitions have been as smooth for Santos. Nancy Marks, who had served as treasurer to Santos’ 2020 and 2022 congressional campaigns, told the FEC on Tuesday she had resigned from Santos’ campaign and affiliated committees effective last Wednesday. Santos’ campaign filed a new statement of organization that day listing experienced GOP treasurer Tom Datwyler, but a lawyer for Datwyler said he had turned down the position and had not authorized the filing.

Despite speculation that the campaign might not find a new treasurer in time to file the year-end report by Tuesday, the report came in with the signature of a new treasurer, Andrew Olson. The filing included a note stating it “has been filed based on the limited information provided to the campaign from the previous treasurer Nancy Marks.”

But the year-end report offers few other details beyond Olson’s name, and the campaign has not filed new paperwork with the FEC designating Olson as treasurer as of Feb. 1. The current statement of organization still lists Datwyler as the treasurer, while Santos is listed as his own campaign’s treasurer on his committee overview page on the FEC website.

The year-end report also includes a $10,000 contribution, several thousand over the legal individual contribution limit of $2,900 per election. The donor, Michael Hastava, told OpenSecrets the Santos campaign had refunded the “erroneous contribution.” He said he supported freshman Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito in New York’s 4th Congressional District.

“I wouldn’t give [Santos] a dime,” Hastava wrote.

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