Why Was Santos Expelled and What Happens Now?

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #114 | By: Arvind Salem | December 27, 2023
Photo taken from: www.truthout.org
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Policy Summary:

On December 1st, George Santos became just the 6th member of Congress to ever be expelled, and only the third since the Civil War. Amid growing scrutiny ever since he entered Congress, few would have thought his offenses would reach a level warranting expulsion, especially since the standard for that has historically been actively supporting an insurrection or being convicted of a serious crime like bribery. However, as investigations were conducted in Santos’s past, it became abundantly clear that he met this standard and was a compulsive liar, even for a politician.

Initially heralded by Republicans for his victory in NY-03 in a district that Biden carried, contributing to the Republican’s razor-thin House majority, Santos quickly faced scrutiny for lies he told on the campaign trail. In particular, the New York Times reported that Santos lied about where he went to college and working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, both of which Santos later admitted were false assertions.

Once reporters started examining Santos’s record, they uncovered violations of campaign finance laws, prompting the Campaign Legal Center and the Political Action Committee End Citizens United to both call for the Federal Elections Commission to investigate Santos. During this time Brazilian authorities reopened an investigation on Santos’s use of a stolen checkbook, which previously ended due to the authorities being unable to locate Santos. The mystery behind Santos’s background was prompting national scrutiny, yet Santos remained adamant that the most heinous accusations were false and that he planned to serve out his term amid early calls to resign.

Santos’s various scandals prompted the House Ethics committee to investigate Santos for his conduct during his 2022 election campaign, violating federal conflict of interest laws, and sexual misconduct. Eventually the report from this investigation would end up damning Santos and leading to his expulsion.

Beyond merely ethical violations and lies on the campaign trail, Santos was now attracting serious legal attention: federal prosecutors filed 13 charges against Santos (consisting mainly of wire fraud and money laundering). Santos pleaded not guilty to these charges, yet one of Santos’s campaign staffers pleaded guilty to conspiring with Santos to commit wire fraud, prompting a new federal indictment superseding the original one, which now accuses him of  stealing the identities of campaign donors and using their credit cards, essentially embezzling money from his Congressional campaign.

The nail in the coffin for Santos was the House Ethics Committee’s report, which concluded that “Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit. “The report outlined how Santos stole from his campaign, deceived donors, and lied about his campaign finances. The Committee referred all of their evidence to the Justice Department, and it is extremely possible that the evidence will be used as ammunition for future prosecutions.

In the end, the vote to expel was 311-114, clearing the two-thirds majority required. House Republican leaders opposed removing Santos, as his expulsion would damage their already razor-thin majority, but 105 GOP lawmakers sided with nearly every Democrat to expel him.

Policy Analysis:

For Santos’s part, despite his legal troubles, he has recovered from his expulsion quite nicely: at least financially. Shortly after his expulsion, Santos joined the celebrity shout-out app Cameo. Cameo allows people to pay for a celebrity/influencer to record a custom message. This app has allowed Santos to capitalize on his previous cultural and political relevance since people are still willing to pay money for him to record funny messages. Politicians aren’t beyond using Santos for this purpose either, Senator John Fetterman paid Santos to record a message with advice for “ethically challenged” Senator Bob Menendez. With his growing popularity, Santos now charges $500 a message, yet has no shortage of buyers. He surpassed his $174,000 yearly Congressional salary within a week of joining the site.

As for Santos’s vacant seat, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on December 5th that the special election will occur on Tuesday, February 13, 2024. Since this is a special election, the party leadership selects the candidates directly rather than through a traditional primary. Democrats selected Tom Suozzi, who was a previous House member from this district, yet did not run in the House election last cycle, opting instead to run for Governor, where he lost in the Democratic primary to current governor Kathy Hochul. Republican candidate Mazi Pilip served in the Nassau County Legislature, and was born in Ethiopia before being evacuated to Israel due to a Civil War, where she completed her education, serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, before immigrating to the U.S. in 2005. The race is expected to be competitive and is categorized as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. Of course, this race will be watched very closely due to its national implications for party control in the House, especially since 3 Republican House members have announced upcoming resignations.

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Engagement Resources

  • Mazi Pilip for Congress: Mazi Pilip is the Republican candidate running in Santos’s district in the special election. Readers who supported Santos’s policies but not his character may wish to explore this candidate.
  • Tom Suozzi for Congress: Tom Suozzi is the Democratic candidate running in Santos’s district in the special election. Readers who disagreed with Santos’s policies may wish to support this candidate in the election.
  • Campaign Legal Center: The Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan organization that fights for a fair political process. They were one of the groups scrutinizing Santos, and readers interested in their mission and that work may wish to explore this organization.

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