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George Santos far outspent other successful LI GOP congressional hopefuls for food, out-of-state travel

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Rep.-elect George Santos spent more than Long Island’s three other Republican House candidates on flights, hotels and restaurants during his successful race for Congress, part of a two-year campaign that experts described as lavish and unusual for a nonincumbent, federal data analyzed by Newsday show.

Santos spent more than $103,000 on restaurants, hotels and flights, far outpacing what the three other GOP House winners — Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), and Rep.-elect Nick LaLota (R-Amityville) — as well as his Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, spent in their races to represent the four congressional districts that span Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Many of the dinners and hotel stays occurred out of state, Federal Election Campaign filings show.

Santos, 34, has rebuffed calls to resign after admitting to lying about his work history and educational background. He also falsely claimed he was Jewish, that his ancestors fled Europe during the Holocaust and that he had ownership of 13 properties. Santos admitted the lies on Monday, a week after the New York Times reported the fabrications.

He is scheduled to be sworn in as a new House member on Jan. 3.

The Nassau County District Attorney is investigating Santos and Democrats and some prominent Long Island Republicans have called for a House Ethics committee investigation.

According to his filings and campaign finance experts, Santos visited expensive hotels and restaurants and traveled out of state much more than a nonincumbent during two years of campaigning to represent the Nassau-centric Third Congressional District.

Experts say campaign funds must be used for legitimate campaign expenses, and it’s not unusual or illegal for congressional candidates to travel during their campaigns and spend thousands of dollars to court high-dollar donors.

But such spending is more common for senior members of the House, including those in party leadership roles, than for a challenger, former House members and experts said. Nonincumbents, they say, are usually focused on using the money for the basics of getting elected.

Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said Santos’ spending “is pretty lavish … for a challenger who normally should be husbanding his resources very carefully for the purposes of running for office.”

“Hotel stays and restaurant bills, those can be explainable in terms of if you’re networking with important people in the party, and potential fundraisers and that sort of thing,” Miller said. But, “if you’re going to resort locations and you’re going to high-end restaurants repeatedly, that sort of looks less like political activity and more like personal activity.”

Santos did not respond to a request for comment.

Santos spent a total of $2 million on his campaign through October, the reports show. He raised nearly $3 million, and claimed in federal filings to have lent his campaign more than $700,000.

Compared with other candidates, Santos spent a much smaller portion of his budget on buying television commercials and digital advertisements.

Thirty-three percent of Santos’ expenses, about $669,000, went to commercials and ads. The other candidates spent close to half or more of their spending on those media categories.

D’Esposito spent $571,000 on commercials and ads, 60% of his campaign spending, FEC filings show. LaLota spent $542,000, 50% of his total spending. Garbarino spent $1.3 million, or 45%, and Zimmerman’s tally of $1.01 million was 44% of his spending.

Newsday reviewed Santos’ spending in 2021 and 2022 and found:

Santos spent 2021 and 2022 flying across the country to resorts or hotels in Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Memphis, Nashville, and Wichita, Kansas, the FEC filings show.

Of the total spending on hotels, restaurants, and flights, Santos spent $55,259 in 2021 and $48,458 in 2022, according to the FEC filings.

The data doesn’t say how many people went to each restaurant, how much he paid per night, or how many staffers flew or traveled with him.

Santos’ spending includes 114 entries labeled specifically, “airfare.”

The number was far smaller for the other candidates: Garbarino’s filings showed 26 transactions to airline companies. LaLota’s showed six. D’Esposito and Zimmerman each made four payments to airline companies.

Santos dined at pricey restaurants in Miami Beach, Atlantic City, and Manhattan. He made repeated visits to some of them.

His filings show 11 trips to Cippolini, in the Americana shopping center in Manhasset, where he sometimes held staff meetings. The bills totaled $2,038, filings show.

The campaign dined at Il Bacco Ristorante in Little Neck, Queens, a total of 25 times, spending $4,552 at the restaurant. Santos also went to Bistro Milano in Manhattan 14 times, spending $2,925 there.

In Atlantic City, the campaign spent $1,085 at Hell’s Kitchen Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, and $660 at Il Mulino in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

At the Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Miami, Santos spent $300. The restaurant bills itself as an “internationally acclaimed destination, serving celebrity clientele,” according to its website.

Santos also stayed at top-tier hotels, paying $917 to the W Hotel in South Beach Miami.

Its website describes it as a beachfront property offering a “new chapter in luxury.” The campaign spent $732 to stay at the SoHo Grand Hotel in Manhattan, a luxury boutique, and $344 at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor. There also was an $829 bill for the Hyatt Regency in Wichita, Kansas.

He also paid $3,333 to Airbnb for a single charge, dated July 7, 2022. 

Santos’ Uber bills added up to $12,650 for 286 rides, the FEC data show. One out of five expenses he filed was for Uber rides.

In interviews with Newsday, former House members said they spent conservatively in their earliest races, saving up big sums to pay for commercials and digital ads to air close to Election Day.

A trip here and there is necessary if it’s likely to yield significant contributions or publicity, experts said. But former House members spoke of sticking to IHOPs and diners for staff meetings and using Knights of Columbus meeting rooms.

Former Rep. Steve Israel of Oyster Bay, who served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday of Santos’ spending: “It’s unheard of. It’s absolutely unheard of.”

“It doesn’t seem like this guy was running for Congress,” said Israel, who represented the Third Congressional District for 16 years. “It seems like he was running for Congress as an excuse to go to nice hotels and eat lavish meals.”

“For a first-time candidate from Long Island, not in the leadership? It’s very rare” to spend the way Santos did, Israel said. “If you are in the House leadership, and in a high-profile position, you’re going to be traveling, and there’ll be hotel stays. But for somebody like this, to rack up that amount of money is very questionable.”

Israel and other House members said candidates have to focus on their “burn rate” — how much money is raised versus what is spent.

“Every candidate is conscious of burn rate,” Israel said. “You want to keep your burn rate really, really low. So you stay at Howard Johnsons if you have to. You don’t travel first class and stay at the best hotels.” 

He recalled taking campaign meetings at the Olympic Diner in Deer Park or the Sweet Hollow Diner in Melville. “I was lucky if I got the hamburger special,” Israel said. When he moved up the leadership ranks, he dined out more frequently when he was traveling with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said.

D’Esposito said he also focused on his campaign’s burn rate.

He traveled to El Paso, Texas with other Republicans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, staying several nights at a hotel there. But for the most part, D’Esposito said he “wanted to stay regimented with my spending so that I knew that I could use the funds that were raised to reach voters. Whether it was by mail, whether it was by digital media, or whether it was by television.”

“The National Republican Congressional Committee monitors the money that you raise,” D’Esposito told Newsday. “There are bench marks they look for. If you get into a race and you don’t have the ability to raise money, and your burn rate is significantly higher than the money that you’re bringing in, then that’s a problem.”

D’Esposito’s Fourth Congressional District favored Biden in 2020, and has 75,000 more Democratic voters than Republicans. “I had an uphill battle, and I wanted to make sure that my money was used in the right places,” he said.

LaLota said he traveled to Orlando, Florida, to meet with a group of supporters, flying coach. He also said he flew to Washington D.C.

“The overwhelming majority of my campaign expenditures were focused on voter contact, specifically TV ads, mail ads, and social media ads,” LaLota said in an interview. “I would say much like a charitable foundation seeks to have minimal administrative costs, seasoned campaigns endeavor to do the same thing, have low overhead, and have most of our donors’ money go to voter contact.”

Rick Lazio, a former Republican congressman from Brightwaters, said he was “frugal” when he challenged then-First Lady Hillary Clinton for U.S. Senate in 2000. 

He recalled becoming angry after learning his campaign had sent fruit baskets to his hotel rooms.

“The standing joke all these years later is how I blew a fuse because they kept putting fruit baskets in my hotel room, and at the campaign expense,” Lazio said in an interview. “I was like, there’s people sending in $10 and $15 checks, get these [out], this is not how we’re supposed to be spending this money.”

Experts said the spending, which is not subject to taxes, must be connected to a specific campaign purpose.

“If this was some kind of fundraising trip, then there’s no problem. If it’s for his personal use, if it’s for his personal entertainment, his personal enjoyment, and unrelated to the campaign, then it raises serious legal issues,” said Richard Briffault, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, who specializes in campaign finance, told Newsday.

“Normally candidates would try and keep their expenses down, because they don’t have that much money. They need to use all the money for the election,” Briffault said.

Santos, he said, “was a nonincumbent in a district that leaned toward the other party. So typically, you would expect somebody to focus the campaign spending as much as possible on getting him elected.”

Former Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said: “The general rule is, unless you’re a multimillionaire, you try to keep your expenses down. It makes no sense not to. You need every penny,” he said. “On Long Island, these are all marginal or pretty Democratic districts.”

“I remember I went to Las Vegas once and there was a fundraiser out there [for] online gambling,” he said. “That was the only exotic place I ever went to.” 

Asked about Santos’ spending, King said, “If you would ask me three weeks ago, I’d say it’s because he came out of the business world,” which is “where he could have gotten his contributions.”

“But if he didn’t, that’s another story,” King said.

With Arielle Martinez

Rep.-elect George Santos spent more than Long Island’s three other Republican House candidates on flights, hotels and restaurants during his successful race for Congress, part of a two-year campaign that experts described as lavish and unusual for a nonincumbent, federal data analyzed by Newsday show.

Santos spent more than $103,000 on restaurants, hotels and flights, far outpacing what the three other GOP House winners — Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), and Rep.-elect Nick LaLota (R-Amityville) — as well as his Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, spent in their races to represent the four congressional districts that span Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Many of the dinners and hotel stays occurred out of state, Federal Election Campaign filings show.

Santos, 34, has rebuffed calls to resign after admitting to lying about his work history and educational background. He also falsely claimed he was Jewish, that his ancestors fled Europe during the Holocaust and that he had ownership of 13 properties. Santos admitted the lies on Monday, a week after the New York Times reported the fabrications.

He is scheduled to be sworn in as a new House member on Jan. 3.

The Nassau County District Attorney is investigating Santos and Democrats and some prominent Long Island Republicans have called for a House Ethics committee investigation.

According to his filings and campaign finance experts, Santos visited expensive hotels and restaurants and traveled out of state much more than a nonincumbent during two years of campaigning to represent the Nassau-centric Third Congressional District.

Experts say campaign funds must be used for legitimate campaign expenses, and it’s not unusual or illegal for congressional candidates to travel during their campaigns and spend thousands of dollars to court high-dollar donors.

But such spending is more common for senior members of the House, including those in party leadership roles, than for a challenger, former House members and experts said. Nonincumbents, they say, are usually focused on using the money for the basics of getting elected.

Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said Santos’ spending “is pretty lavish … for a challenger who normally should be husbanding his resources very carefully for the purposes of running for office.”

“Hotel stays and restaurant bills, those can be explainable in terms of if you’re networking with important people in the party, and potential fundraisers and that sort of thing,” Miller said. But, “if you’re going to resort locations and you’re going to high-end restaurants repeatedly, that sort of looks less like political activity and more like personal activity.”

Santos did not respond to a request for comment.

Santos spent a total of $2 million on his campaign through October, the reports show. He raised nearly $3 million, and claimed in federal filings to have lent his campaign more than $700,000.

Compared with other candidates, Santos spent a much smaller portion of his budget on buying television commercials and digital advertisements.

Thirty-three percent of Santos’ expenses, about $669,000, went to commercials and ads. The other candidates spent close to half or more of their spending on those media categories.

D’Esposito spent $571,000 on commercials and ads, 60% of his campaign spending, FEC filings show. LaLota spent $542,000, 50% of his total spending. Garbarino spent $1.3 million, or 45%, and Zimmerman’s tally of $1.01 million was 44% of his spending.

Newsday reviewed Santos’ spending in 2021 and 2022 and found:

  • For airfare: Santos spent $42,454 on flights. The figure is more than five times the $7,998 Garbarino spent for airfare. D’Esposito spent $5,739 and LaLota paid $2,258. Zimmerman’s total was $1,643, according to FEC filings.
  • On hotels: Santos spent $29,986 across the country. Garbarino spent $24,155, D’Esposito spent $3,933, and LaLota, $881. Zimmerman did not report spending any campaign money on hotel stays.
  • On meals and at restaurants: Santos spent $31,276, including for staff meetings. Garbarino spent $6,361, LaLota spent $10,300; Esposito, $4,989 and Zimmerman, $4,442. (Newsday reviewed entries that referred to meetings or meals paid for by the campaign, but excluded spending for specific fundraisers or events.)

Santos spent 2021 and 2022 flying across the country to resorts or hotels in Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Memphis, Nashville, and Wichita, Kansas, the FEC filings show.

Of the total spending on hotels, restaurants, and flights, Santos spent $55,259 in 2021 and $48,458 in 2022, according to the FEC filings.

The data doesn’t say how many people went to each restaurant, how much he paid per night, or how many staffers flew or traveled with him.

Santos’ spending includes 114 entries labeled specifically, “airfare.”

The number was far smaller for the other candidates: Garbarino’s filings showed 26 transactions to airline companies. LaLota’s showed six. D’Esposito and Zimmerman each made four payments to airline companies.

Santos dined at pricey restaurants in Miami Beach, Atlantic City, and Manhattan. He made repeated visits to some of them.

His filings show 11 trips to Cippolini, in the Americana shopping center in Manhasset, where he sometimes held staff meetings. The bills totaled $2,038, filings show.

The campaign dined at Il Bacco Ristorante in Little Neck, Queens, a total of 25 times, spending $4,552 at the restaurant. Santos also went to Bistro Milano in Manhattan 14 times, spending $2,925 there.

In Atlantic City, the campaign spent $1,085 at Hell’s Kitchen Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, and $660 at Il Mulino in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

At the Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Miami, Santos spent $300. The restaurant bills itself as an “internationally acclaimed destination, serving celebrity clientele,” according to its website.

Santos also stayed at top-tier hotels, paying $917 to the W Hotel in South Beach Miami.

Its website describes it as a beachfront property offering a “new chapter in luxury.” The campaign spent $732 to stay at the SoHo Grand Hotel in Manhattan, a luxury boutique, and $344 at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor. There also was an $829 bill for the Hyatt Regency in Wichita, Kansas.

He also paid $3,333 to Airbnb for a single charge, dated July 7, 2022. 

Santos’ Uber bills added up to $12,650 for 286 rides, the FEC data show. One out of five expenses he filed was for Uber rides.

In interviews with Newsday, former House members said they spent conservatively in their earliest races, saving up big sums to pay for commercials and digital ads to air close to Election Day.

A trip here and there is necessary if it’s likely to yield significant contributions or publicity, experts said. But former House members spoke of sticking to IHOPs and diners for staff meetings and using Knights of Columbus meeting rooms.

Former Rep. Steve Israel of Oyster Bay, who served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday of Santos’ spending: “It’s unheard of. It’s absolutely unheard of.”

“It doesn’t seem like this guy was running for Congress,” said Israel, who represented the Third Congressional District for 16 years. “It seems like he was running for Congress as an excuse to go to nice hotels and eat lavish meals.”

“For a first-time candidate from Long Island, not in the leadership? It’s very rare” to spend the way Santos did, Israel said. “If you are in the House leadership, and in a high-profile position, you’re going to be traveling, and there’ll be hotel stays. But for somebody like this, to rack up that amount of money is very questionable.”

Israel and other House members said candidates have to focus on their “burn rate” — how much money is raised versus what is spent.

“Every candidate is conscious of burn rate,” Israel said. “You want to keep your burn rate really, really low. So you stay at Howard Johnsons if you have to. You don’t travel first class and stay at the best hotels.” 

He recalled taking campaign meetings at the Olympic Diner in Deer Park or the Sweet Hollow Diner in Melville. “I was lucky if I got the hamburger special,” Israel said. When he moved up the leadership ranks, he dined out more frequently when he was traveling with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said.

D’Esposito said he also focused on his campaign’s burn rate.

He traveled to El Paso, Texas with other Republicans to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, staying several nights at a hotel there. But for the most part, D’Esposito said he “wanted to stay regimented with my spending so that I knew that I could use the funds that were raised to reach voters. Whether it was by mail, whether it was by digital media, or whether it was by television.”

“The National Republican Congressional Committee monitors the money that you raise,” D’Esposito told Newsday. “There are bench marks they look for. If you get into a race and you don’t have the ability to raise money, and your burn rate is significantly higher than the money that you’re bringing in, then that’s a problem.”

D’Esposito’s Fourth Congressional District favored Biden in 2020, and has 75,000 more Democratic voters than Republicans. “I had an uphill battle, and I wanted to make sure that my money was used in the right places,” he said.

LaLota said he traveled to Orlando, Florida, to meet with a group of supporters, flying coach. He also said he flew to Washington D.C.

“The overwhelming majority of my campaign expenditures were focused on voter contact, specifically TV ads, mail ads, and social media ads,” LaLota said in an interview. “I would say much like a charitable foundation seeks to have minimal administrative costs, seasoned campaigns endeavor to do the same thing, have low overhead, and have most of our donors’ money go to voter contact.”

Rick Lazio, a former Republican congressman from Brightwaters, said he was “frugal” when he challenged then-First Lady Hillary Clinton for U.S. Senate in 2000. 

He recalled becoming angry after learning his campaign had sent fruit baskets to his hotel rooms.

“The standing joke all these years later is how I blew a fuse because they kept putting fruit baskets in my hotel room, and at the campaign expense,” Lazio said in an interview. “I was like, there’s people sending in $10 and $15 checks, get these [out], this is not how we’re supposed to be spending this money.”

Experts said the spending, which is not subject to taxes, must be connected to a specific campaign purpose.

“If this was some kind of fundraising trip, then there’s no problem. If it’s for his personal use, if it’s for his personal entertainment, his personal enjoyment, and unrelated to the campaign, then it raises serious legal issues,” said Richard Briffault, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, who specializes in campaign finance, told Newsday.

“Normally candidates would try and keep their expenses down, because they don’t have that much money. They need to use all the money for the election,” Briffault said.

Santos, he said, “was a nonincumbent in a district that leaned toward the other party. So typically, you would expect somebody to focus the campaign spending as much as possible on getting him elected.”

Former Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said: “The general rule is, unless you’re a multimillionaire, you try to keep your expenses down. It makes no sense not to. You need every penny,” he said. “On Long Island, these are all marginal or pretty Democratic districts.”

“I remember I went to Las Vegas once and there was a fundraiser out there [for] online gambling,” he said. “That was the only exotic place I ever went to.” 

Asked about Santos’ spending, King said, “If you would ask me three weeks ago, I’d say it’s because he came out of the business world,” which is “where he could have gotten his contributions.”

“But if he didn’t, that’s another story,” King said.

With Arielle Martinez

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