Many politicians have a tenuous relationship with the truth. Then there’s George Santos, the Republican congressman-elect from Long Island, N.Y.
While he was on the campaign trail in the fall, Santos lied to voters about practically everything in his background, be it his personal life or his career. He appears to have entirely made up lines on his resume, claiming stints at the Wall Street firms Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, though, after reporters from The New York Times started digging into his alleged life story, neither employer could find any records of him ever working for them. His supposed alma mater, Baruch College, could not verify that he was ever enrolled at the school. He even lied about his religion, saying that he is Jewish when he, in fact, is not.
Santos has since apologized for fibbing parts of his bio, though not before accusing the Times of a smear campaign against him. “I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume,” he eventually told the New York Post. “I own up to that … We do stupid things in life.” But he hasn’t been entirely forthright, and he’s answering legitimate questions about his lies rather facetiously. “I never claimed to be Jewish,” Santos said, for example. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background, I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’” (Hyphens are, of course, silent, so you can see how one could easily get confused.)
Those types of fabrications are deplorable — people in his district ended up voting for, in effect, a made-up person — and Santos’s web of lies is so large that this scandal should, in a decent world, prompt his resignation from Congress. But this story goes beyond mere self-aggrandizement. His entire candidacy was rooted in fiction, and there are certain elements of his story that raise concerns that go beyond dishonesty.
That’s why it’s incumbent on the House Ethics Committee to launch an inquiry into whether Santos broke any ethics rules while misleading voters, such as making false statements on the financial disclosure form that candidates are required to submit to the House. After reporting no assets or earned income in his first run for public office in 2020, his 2022 financial disclosure form stated that he had assets valued anywhere between $2.6 million and $11.25 million, income from his family business of over a million dollars, in addition to a salary of $750,000. He also donated more than $700,000 to his own campaign.
That’s quite the reversal of fortunes, which prompts the obvious question: Where did all that money come from? Santos didn’t reveal any clients in his disclosure form — a likely violation of election rules — though he now says he made that money from wealthy clients who were looking to sell their planes and boats without formally listing them. As shady as that already sounds, it’s also coming from someone who at this point has made abundantly clear that he should not be taken at his word.
While it’s unlikely that a Republican-led House Ethics Committee has the appetite to thoroughly investigate one of its own members, particularly given the party’s slim majority in the incoming House, the GOP must be willing to hold its own representatives accountable if it hopes to project any legitimacy in its promised probes of the Biden administration. And beyond a formal inquiry, the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, should pressure Santos to come clean about all of his falsehoods by not giving him any committee assignments until he fesses up.
One incredible aspect of the Santos saga is that it broke only after the election — in a competitive district, and in a part of the country that’s home to some of the biggest and most well-funded news publications. What lies have candidates gotten away with in the many cities and towns that have lost their local newspapers and in the many gerrymandered districts where one party predominates? If nothing else, this underscores the importance of good opposition research on the part of campaigns — that is, not the kind of bad-faith opposition research that digs up any dirt on a candidate, no matter how personal, but the kind that actually helps vet them.
Ultimately, if Santos had any sense of decency, he would resign. But given that he has so far shown no inclination of doing so, then investigators should get to work unraveling the source of his campaign money — now.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.