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Lawmaker proposes truth statement for candidates

AP Photo Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., faces reporters at the Capitol, Nov. 30, 2023, in Washington. Santos said Friday, March 22, 2024, that he will leave the Republican Party and run as an independent in a bid to return to Congress after having been expelled while facing fraud charges.

Disgraced House Rep. George Santos wants to run for Congress again, this time as an independent.

If Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, D-Port Washington, has anything to say about it, New York state law will require Santos and others running for office to swear the background information they provide to voters is true.

Sillitti recently introduced A.5358 in the state Assembly to amend the state Election Law to require candidates for office attest to the general biographical information that they share with voters, including certain employment history, service records, educational accomplishments that they tout and military service records.

“Having candidates attest to basic biographical information will allow for early identification of candidates that are misleading the public, or who do not qualify for the office they are pursuing based on residency requirements,” Sillitti wrote in her legislative justification. “Early identification of an untruthful or non-qualifying candidate will ensure that only eligible candidates appear on our ballots and that the public has a true choice when they go to the polls.”

Sillitti proposes giving candidates 15 days to file the information with their local Board of Elections, which would then have five days to upload the information disclosed on their website. Failure to disclose would result in a $1,000 civil penalty, with an additional $25 a day for each day the disclosure is not filed. The maximum total find would be $2,000, with fines paid by the candidate and not by a campaign account.

The local Board of Elections would also be required to note on their webpage if a candidate did not file their disclosure so that the public is aware the candidate’s background has not been disclosed. The statements will be signed, notarized, and filed under penalty of perjury by the candidate. Additionally, Sillitti’s bill would require that if additional representations are made by the candidate during the course of their campaign, that amended disclosure statements must be filed at the time the next campaign finance disclosure is filed.

“This bill balances the public’s need for truthful information from candidates, while ensuring that the disclosure does not have a chilling effect,” Sillitti wrote. “Democracy works best when people of various backgrounds and experiences come together, and this bill balances those needs by limiting the type of information that is disclosed. This attestation will help deter instances of untruthfulness from a candidate and gives the public a way of verifying the things that candidates are claiming. Unfortunately, we are forced to legislate truthfulness. Without proper

vetting of candidates, constituents are sometimes left without representation in government and ultimately lose faith in the electoral system. It is imperative in New York State that candidates for public office be truthful in the statements they make to voters, that voters should be able to trust the information candidates share, and that there should be a way for the public to verify such.”

Santos announced earlier this month that he was challenging Republican Rep. Nick LaLota in the GOP primary in an eastern Long Island district that is different than the one he represented before he was expelled. Among those vying to be the Democratic candidate for the seat is John Avlon, a former CNN anchor.

In December, Santos became just the sixth member in history to be expelled by fellow House colleagues, following a critical House Ethics Committee report that cited “overwhelming evidence” of lawbreaking by Santos.

Santos has pleaded not guilty to charges including lying to Congress about his wealth, receiving unemployment benefits he didn’t deserve, and using campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses like designer clothing. A judge has tentatively scheduled the trial for September, after the primary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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