Santos reported 40.
In fact, their campaign accounted for roughly half of all spending for all campaigns that cost exactly $199.99, a statistical improbability.
The rarity of campaign expenditures that come so close to the legal limit for withholding receipts has raised concerns that Santos’ campaign disbursements were “deliberately falsified,” a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center alleges. Major questions about Santos’ campaign finance remain unanswered, including the source of $700,000 the New York congressman apparently loaned to his campaign despite questions about his personal finances.
“This was a multi-thousand-dollar operation,” said Adav Noti, a former FEC attorney and senior vice president of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, which filed a complaint against Santos. “We don’t know where the money came from, we don’t know where the money went.”
Santos’ attorney, Joe Murray, declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations. The congressman has previously admitted to exaggerating parts of his biography, but has denied breaking any laws. Both local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether he may have broken the law, but he has not been charged with a crime and has rejected calls for his resignation from GOP colleagues in the state’s congressional delegation.
According to FEC reports, most of the $199.99 transactions from the Santos campaign, including the eight Italian restaurant charges, date back to 2021. But just like the fabricated aspects of the now-congressman’s biography , went largely unnoticed until after the election.
Under FEC regulations, campaigns must report all disbursements and keep receipts or invoices for those valued at $200 or more. The large number of expenses that were reported as just below the receipts withholding threshold was one of the subjects of the CLC’s complaint against the Santos campaign. The complaint also cited the $700,000 Santos reported as a personal loan to his campaign despite questions about his finances.
Of the more than 4,300 House and Senate campaigns that filed FEC reports during the 2022 election cycle, less than 9 percent reported one or more expenses that cost between $199 and $199.99.
Not all campaign spending in this narrow range raises questions. A relatively common expense this election cycle: subscriptions to the web conferencing platform Zoom, which has a business plan priced at $199.90 per month.
But only 25 campaign committees reported any expenses that cost exactly $199.99, according to POLITICO’s analysis. No campaign other than Santos spent that specific amount more than four times. And the Santos campaign spent that exact number 37 times, according to its campaign finance reports, totaling $7,400. In addition to the Italian restaurant and hotel in Miami, he reported spending exactly $199.99 on 10 different Uber rides, four Delta Airlines flights and two Amtrak trains, among other expenses.
Those reported expenses are still a relatively small portion of the more than $2.6 million Santos’ campaign spent last cycle. But CLC’s complaint alleges they raise questions about the accuracy of its reported disbursements.
The FEC, which is tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws, sent more than 20 letters to the Santos campaign asking about math errors and other inconsistencies throughout the 2022 election cycle. Although those letters are fairly common, this number is an outlier, said Noti of the Campaign Legal Center.
The agency is not equipped to flag suspicious transactions based on amounts and sellers.
The Santos campaign has repeatedly amended its documents before and after the election in response to the FEC’s letters. That included filing several updated forms Tuesday to indicate previous large contributions that should have been reported in November, as well as amendments to several quarterly reports. The amendments did not touch the $199.99 payouts.