Opinion: The most important secret George Santos keeps | CNN (2023)

Opinion: The most important secret George Santos keeps | CNN (1)

Watch Santos Tense Discussion With CNN Reporter About Campaign Funds

01:55 - Source:CNN

Editor's Note:Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. To viewmore opinionon CNN.


The ongoing drama surrounding Republican Representative George Santos of New York, whose self-constructed identity of lies is being dismantled piece by piece by journalists, is an irresistible spectacle, a bizarre mix of amusement and exasperation.

But there is one particularly disturbing aspect that points to a dangerous fragility of American democracy: who paid for Santos' election campaign? That is, who has more influence over the congressman?

The fact that this fantasist's support is so difficult to trace back confirms something that democracy finance experts have been telling us for years:corrupt playersthey are taking advantage of how democracy is financed in the United States.

Opinion: The most important secret George Santos keeps | CNN (2)

Frida Ghitis

Candidates need a lot of money and it is very easy to hide the source of donations. In the past two years,people from other nationswith nefarious agendas were convicted of illegal campaign finance at the state and federal levels, but the problem was not resolved.

Like everything Santos-related, he took things to a new level. The Congressman's confusion of campaign records is as much to the nation's campaign finance problems as his lies are to the problem of disguising politicians. It's on a different scale and more awkwardly implemented.

By now, many of Santos' lies are familiar. Until recently he was known asantonio devolder but some also knew him as Anthony Zabrovsky, and he used names like George Devolder and George Anthony Devolder-Santos (his real name) for his social media accounts.

claimed to havemany degrees, including an MBA from New York University and has worked at major financial firms. (He later admitted that he never graduated from college.) He claimed his mother was inside the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but records show that sheI was in BrazilIn that day.

he held itwas jewish, grandson of Jewish refugeeswho escaped the holocaust. But it turns out he has no Jewish ancestry or any connection to the Holocaust. (He later said that he "never claimed to be Jewish", but jokingly said that he was "Jewish".)

The lies keep coming in a relentless conveyor of revelations. He falsely said that "embellished" his summary. And, in an interview with the far-right television news channel OAN, he promised that he had learned his lesson and that from now on "everything will be in order".adding, "To a large extent, he was always honest." This is a lie.

Representative George Santos (R-NY) leaves the US Capitol on January 12 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images Opinion: George Santos' drag days are a stupid smokescreen

The most important of his lies is who gave him money to run for office. (The OAN interviewer did not ask.)

Federal law requirescandidates to disclose taxpayers. Not surprisingly, Santos' "revelations" sound like fiction.

Mother Jones Magazine has tried to reach out to donors since its failed 2020 run for Congress.ghost hunting. They found that more than a dozen large donations came from people who apparently don't exist, often with addresses that don't exist.

In 2022, everything got even more mysterious.The most intriguing of allis what campaign files describe as loans from Santos to the campaign totaling more than $700,000. With the temperature rising on his made-up life, his campaign appeared to have revisited the submissions, in some cases belying the question of whether those large funding tranches were his own money.

It is worth remembering that during his 2020 Congressional run, Santos reported an annual salary of $55,000 and no assets. Two years later, he reported a salary of $750,000. All of this inconsistent information about his campaign finances raises questions: Who gave him the funds? Why does the claim that the money was his suddenly change? What is he hiding?

We know some of your donors. there isrocco oppedisan, the Italian citizen who wasI hit smugglingundocumented immigrants in the United States in 2019. He pleaded guilty to smuggling and was sentenced to imprisonment and three years of supervised release. (Santos, incidentally, is a strong critic of illegal immigration under President Joe Biden.)

Beleaguered New York Representative George Santos, a Republican, leaves the US Capitol building following a vote in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC on January 12, 2023. Campaign finance activity with many calls for him to resign . Samuel Corum/Sipa USA/AP Opinion: 'Saturday Night Live' skits aside, George Santos is no joke

Santos' campaign also reported that he made large payments for "outstanding debt” to a New York restaurant owned by Oppedisano's brother, who santos vigorously promoteson the social networks

Then there's Santos' indirect Russian connection. FORWashington Post Investigationfound that donor Andrew Intrater, an American businessman, has longstanding financial ties to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, as well as a former key player in former President Donald Trump's inner circle. Intrater reportedly cultivated ties to Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer and "fixer". Intrater and his wife made the maximum allowable donation of US$5,800 each for the Santos campaign, but have also donated tens of thousands of dollars since 2020 to committees linked to Santos, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Intrater's interactions with Cohen, including payments and hundreds of text messages,was investigatedby Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Intrater was not charged.) His firm, according to official documents, had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Harbor City,a defendant companyfrom running a Ponzi scheme where Santos worked before starting a company that Santos says has paid him more than $3.5 million over the past two years.

Santos did not give many clear explanations. Herefusedto answer questions directly on the matter, and said last week it would hold a press conference "soon" to "get everything sorted out." Meanwhile, your campaign treasurerto give up, and the man Santos initially said took the job said he had done no such thing.

Hered flagsThe opaqueness of it all should shed light on the perilous swamp that is US election finance. Hiding a contribution from one person on behalf of another is prohibited, but what is allowed is even more troubling.

The Open Secrets campaign watchdog raised the alarm aboutso-called figurative donors and shell companiesthat hide real donors. Not only do they cover the trail of people who may want to hide their identity, they hide some who may be contributing illegally, injecting "black money" into the manipulation of democracy and US law.

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    Last year,accused promotersthat Russian citizen Andrey Muraviev, along with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, former associates of Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, engaged in a criminal fake donation scheme to funnel $1 million to federal and state campaigns. (Parnas had previously been convicted of illegally funneling money to a pro-Trump PAC in 2018.) Parnashas since been convicted20 months plus three years of supervision parole in the case; Furman was sentenced to 366 days in jail; and Muraviev is believed to be on the run in Russia.

    If one hopes to use Santos to do his bidding in Congress, his investment is unlikely to pay off. Santos has become synonymous with outlandish lies. If anyone hoped to gain influence through him for their preferred policies, campaign finance appears to have failed. Santos' credibility and ethics are so compromised that endorsing an opinion can attract unwanted scrutiny.

    That was my reaction, for example, when I saw Santos' comments about Ukraine a year ago, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion. Speaking at a far-right convention, Santosdeclared, “It's not that Ukraine is a great democracy. It's a totalitarian regime,” asserting that Ukrainians welcomed Russians; essentially repeating the Kremlin's talking points.

    That was George Santos, or Anthony Devolder, who, by the way,also claimedhis grandfather was Ukrainian. Everything can be - we confess - a lot of fun. Even so, it is necessary to get to the most important of the fabulista's secrets: who really paid to make him a deputy.

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