Let’s not do that again!
Democratic Bronx Rep. Ritchie Torres is set to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for Congressional hopefuls to lie about their biographies as outrage grows over the unraveling of Congressman-elect George Santos’ life story.
The bill would make it illegal for candidates to “defraud” voters by providing false information about their education, past employment or military service. Those details would be required to be part of the disclosures candidates already must make to run for office.
“George Santos pretended to be a Ukrainian, Belgium, Brazilian, Catholic, Jew, whose mother died twice — including in 9/11, whose ancestors survived the Holocaust and whose employees died in the Pulse mass shooting and who became a millionaire overnight,” Torres told The Post. “It’s absurd. It would be laughable, if it weren’t so serious.”
Providing incorrect information would be a prosecutable offense that could be punished with a $100,000 fine or up to a year in prison.
However, if enacted, the new law would have to contend with the extensive latitude politicians are given by the courts to make statements thanks to the First Amendment’s protections of political speech.
“Fraud is all about misleading people with words and people have been able to sue for fraud for generations,” said Donna Lieberman, the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “If you’re talking about ethics and government, the alarm has been going off for years.”
However, she added: “The point is well taken that when you’re dealing with political speech, you have to worry about if regulations are an invitation to censorship and abuse by whichever party is in charge.”
Santos, a Republican, won the Nov. 8 election to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers a large portion of northern Nassau County and a small section of northeast Queens.
But he now finds himself enmeshed in at least two investigations — one local and one federal, according to reports — amid mounting questions about his finances following an explosive New York Times story that revealed he lied about substantial portions of his biography.
The broadsheet revealed that Santos never graduated from Baruch College or New York University, both of which he claimed to attend; that he never worked for the two investment firms he claimed employed him; and that a charity which helps stray dogs and cats never received the money he claimed to have raised for it.
Subsequent stories from The Times; The Forward, a publication that serves Jewish audiences; and online muckraker The Daily Beast also revealed that Santos’ grandparents were apparently born in Brazil even though he described them as Holocaust survivors, that Santos divorced a woman just two weeks before launching his failed 2020 House campaign, in which he described himself as gay; and that he apparently founded a company that played matchmaker for future campaign donors making private transactions.
In a mea culpa interview, Santos admitted The Post that he had “embellished” his resume and life story, while attempting to explain away his claims of Jewish heritage.
“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos said. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”