U.S. Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has come under fire for fabricating parts of his background and embellishing his résumé, has been accused of funneling funds from a political action committee intended for voter registration, education, and outreach efforts to a conservative website affiliated with prominent gay Republicans.
According to reporting by Mother Jones, Santos allegedly helped to raise money for Rise NY, a political action committee dedicated to voter registration and engagement efforts.
The PAC collected over $430,000, ostensibly for those purposes, but later sent $55,800 to the Liberty Education Forum, a nonprofit affiliated with the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans.
According to the Liberty Education Forum’s website, the nonprofit focuses on increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS research, education, and prevention programs, pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality abroad, opposing conversion therapy, and advocating for parental rights to ensure children “are not exposed to harmful elements that repress their natural development,” particularly with respect to gender identity or efforts to encourage children to pursue medical transition.
Charles Moran, a spokesperson for the Liberty Education Forum, told Mother Jones that Rise NY made three payments of $18,600 to support a project spearheaded by Outspoken Middle East, a news and commentary website that focuses on reporting about abuses of civil and LGBTQ rights in Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality is criminalized.
The website features contributions from gay and lesbian citizen journalists in those countries, criticizing the U.S. government for fostering alliances with homophobic regimes and the political Left for failing to denounce anti-LGBTQ persecution abroad.
Moran added that Rise NY also paid the Liberty Education Forum $1,800 for three tickets to its 2021 annual gala.
Moran, who also serves as the president of Log Cabin Republicans, said that he approached Santos — who was already well-known within gay Republican circles from his failed 2020 congressional campaign — in the summer of 2021 to ask if Santos could help fund Outspoken Middle East to raise attention to the treatment of gays and lesbians in the Middle East.
He said he didn’t know what Santos’s technical designation with Rise NY PAC was, but knew Santos was involved with it. However, he did not talk to Santos about any possible contribution from the PAC.
When the first donation of $18,600 from Rise NY PAC arrived in September 2021, Moran accepted the donation, noting that it is legal under campaign finance law for a state PAC to make a donation to a nonprofit.
A month after the first donation from Rise NY PAC, Richard Grenell, the former Acting Director of National Intelligence and U.S. ambassador to Germany under the Trump administration, who serves as an adviser to Outspoken Middle East, appeared at an October 2021 fundraiser for Santos’s congressional campaign.
Over the next six months, Rise NY made two more $18,600 donations to Outspoken Middle East.
Grenell officially endorsed Santos’s congressional bid in July 2022, issuing a celebratory tweet after Santos emerged victorious, making history as the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress as a non-incumbent.
According to tax returns from 2020, the last year for which Rise NY’s tax returns are available, the PAC only raised $106,700 that year.
That means that even if the amount of money raised by Rise NY increased in subsequent years, the amount donated to Outspoken Middle East — which does not register voters or perform voter education campaigns — is still a significant amount.
Rise NY was officially headed by Santos’s sister, Tiffany, who was listed as its president and on its payroll.
Nancy Marks, who served as treasurer of Santos’s House campaigns, served as Rise NY PAC’s treasurer. According to Newsday, the political action committee made two payments of $5,200 to the landlord of the building where Santos lived in Whitestone, Queens. The PAC also sent $35,000 to Marks and two of her companies, reporting in campaign filings that the payments were reimbursement for “professional services” rendered.
While Santos had no official position with the political action committee, he allegedly personally handed checks to Joseph Cairo, the Nassau County GOP chair, when Rise NY PAC made two contributions of $62,500 to the Nassau County Republican Committee and to the Town of Hempstead Republican Committee.
According to Mother Jones, much of the money raised by Rise NY came from two Republican funders: Andrew Intrater, a wealthy New York fund manager and cousin of sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who donated $175,000 in several installments between 2021 and 2022, and Robert Mangi, the president of a Long Island-based insurance company, who donated $150,000.
Separately, Intrater also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with a firm where Santos worked, Harbor City Capital Corporation, which, according to CBS, was shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC had previously accused the company of running a Ponzi scheme.
In a statement to Mother Jones, Intrater said he was surprised to learn that 40% of Rise NY PAC’s funding had come from him, as well as the fact that Santos sent $55,800 to Outspoken Middle East.
“While I support gay rights, that’s not the purpose for Rise NY that was represented to me,” he said in the statement. “I was told several times that Rise NY funds were going to efforts to register Republican voters in traditionally Democrat voting districts.
“George introduced me to Rise NY but I didn’t discuss its activities with him after he made the introduction. Until the reports came out indicating that George’s sister was involved with Rise, I had no idea George or his people had anything to do with it other than having made the introduction to benefit the NY Republican Party.”
Intrater told the New York Times that he had reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice offering information on Santos and has also provided information about the congressman’s dealings to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Magni told Newsday that Santos was a “fraud,” adding that “donors on all sides of the political aisle will now respond to requests for campaign donations with the question, ‘What do I really know about this person, issue, or PAC?'”
When asked by Mother Jones about Santos’s contributions of money raised by Rise NY PAC to help underwrite Outspoken Middle East, Joseph Murray, Santos’s lawyer, declined to comment, citing ongoing federal, state, and local investigations into the congressman’s financial dealings.
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