Even by today’s low ethical standards for politicians, George Santos is quite exceptional.
Has been the U.S. Representative for New York’s 3rd Congressional District accused of lying about his education, work history, charitable activities, athletic ability, and even where he lives, among other things.
Now some of his alleged lies, which the public had not heard before, are the subject of a federal indictment because the United States Department of Justice has charged Santos with 13 counts of criminal misconduct, including fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements.
Santos handed over to federal authorities at a courthouse in suburban Long Island on May 10.
“Taken together, the charges in the indictment accuse Santos of relying on repeated dishonesty and deceit to go to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” US attorney Breon Peace said.
Several scholars have written for The Conversation US about Santos, his ability to lie when the truth was readily available, and the resentment such lies generate in voters.
Here we highlight three examples from our archive.
1. Lies, lies and more lies
Professor Sarah Webber is one not-for-profit accountantand what caught her attention on Santos were reports that he had fabricated a good cause.
On a early version of his campaign websitethe freshman legislator claimed that he founded and ran a so-called bogus non-profit animal rescue group Friends of Pets United.
Regardless of what is at stake in Santos’ case, Webber wrote that fake charities are a serious problem.
“Their scams divert donations that would otherwise likely support legitimate causes that benefit society in some way,” Webber wrote.
Read more: Allegations that the charity George Santos claims to have run was bogus highlight how scams divert money from charities
2. Are lies told by politicians illegal?
Like a scholar of constitutional law, comparative constitutionalism, democracy and authoritarianismwrote Miguel Schor that most of Santos’ misrepresentations can be protected by the First Amendment.
Santos’ lies may have gotten him in trouble with the voters who put him in the House, including members of the GOP New York who wanted him to resign.
But until the indictment, Santos has been able to escape legal liability.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that lies are protected by the First Amendment,” Schor noted, “not because of their value, but because the government cannot be trusted with the power to regulate lies.”
Read more: George Santos: A democracy cannot easily punish politicians’ lies
3. Voters hate needless lying by politicians
Like a political philosopherMichael Blake focuses his work on the moral foundations of democratic politics.
Lying to voters is not necessarily morally wrong, Blake wrote, since election-seeking politicians have incentives to tell voters what they want to hear.
But unlike the usual forms of deceptive practices during political campaigns, Santos’ lies provoked resentment and indignationsuggesting that “voters will not accept being unnecessarily lied to — nor about matters that can be easily proven or disproved empirically.”
Read more: All politicians have to lie from time to time, so why is there so much outrage about George Santos? A political philosopher explains
Editor’s Note: This story is a collection of articles from the archives of The Conversation.