The bill, introduced by state Sen. John Liu and Assemblymember Gina Sillitti, calls for greater transparency in candidate disclosures. The state lawmakers were joined by Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, outside the Northern Boulevard office on Friday, Dec. 8, to rally support.
If passed, Senate Bill S5884 would require candidates to file a sworn statement attesting that they meet residency requirements, as well as claims about their military service, educational background and employment history, if the experience is touted as part of their campaign platform.
“We have to build back the voters’ trust. Over the years, people have lost faith in our democratic process,” said Sillitti, whose Nassau County district is entirely in Congressional District 3, which Santos represented for almost a year. “Our job is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Our job is to restore the constituents’ confidence in this political process.”
The freshman Congress member was plagued with scandals after it was revealed that he fabricated most of his resume. But on Dec. 1, the House voted for his expulsion following an ethics report that revealed he broke federal campaign finance and spending laws. Despite his exorbitant lies made public, the Santos refused to step down.
While officials hope that a case like Santos is a rarity, the legislation would add another layer of accountability for candidates. The disclosure process would not be that different from filing a petition forms, which candidates swear by an affidavit.
“It’s our responsibility as legislators to help our constituents not be not be fooled, not be defrauded like George Santos did to many of our constituents,” said Liu. “Our legislation is common sense. This is not about creating a new bureaucracy or a whole lot of different procedures. This is simply requiring candidates running for office to sign a sworn statement that their basic facts are in fact true.”
The responsibility to fact check claims will fall on the press, the public and on opposing candidates. Officials from the Board of Elections will not be responsible for verifying the disclosures, they will just make the information accessible to the public on their website.
Criminal courts will only become involved if candidates are found to have committed perjury — a felony at both the state and federal level. It will be up to the appropriate district attorney to determine if candidates’ claims amount to perjury.
“Voters expect — at the very least — the people running to represent them are who they say they are. That’s why Senator Liu and Assemblymember Sillitti’s newly revised bill is important: it raises the accountability bar for candidates and makes it harder for candidates who lack integrity — like Mr. Santos — to defraud New York voters,” said Lerner. “We’re hopeful lawmakers will pass this bill swiftly come January so no future candidate bamboozles the public again.”
If a candidate fails to make the statement required by the proposed legislation, that information will be publicly available to voters as well. And failure to make the statement will carry a penalty of up to $1,000, with additional penalties of $25 per day, up to a maximum of $1,000 for each additional day the statement is not filed. Campaign funds cannot be used to pay the penalty.
“We intend to push full speed ahead on this legislation come January,” said Senator Liu, hoping that it passes ahead of the 2024 election cycle.