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George Santos’ Cartier, Byron Donalds’ Legal Fees


Янв 7, 2023

Today we take a look at members of the 118th Congress, which kicked off this week (kinda).

This is the web edition of the free Checks & Imbalances newsletter, usually sent to inboxes on Fridays. You can subscribe here. Please support this work, if you can, by subscribing to Forbes.

George Santos’ Cartier Santos Watch Is Worth $7,800—Unless It’s A Fake

International man of mystery George Santos reported for his first day in Congress wearing what appears to be a Cartier Santos, which retails for $7,800.

At least, that’s what the real ones cost. Knockoffs go for just $150. An expert in luxury watches, who independently identified the timepiece for Forbes, cautioned that it is impossible to be sure of the type of watch—let alone its authenticity—from the available photos. Santos did not respond to emails, and calls to his office went straight to voicemail, which could not accept new messages.

Rep.-elect Santos is facing local, state and federal investigations after reports surfaced that he had lied many times about his biography. Adding to his troubles, authorities in Brazil reopened a fraud case this week against the 34-year-old incoming congressman, alleging that he used a fake name and checkbook to buy $700 worth of clothing.

In an ironic twist, the Cartier Santos, one of the most famous timepieces in horological history, traces its roots to Brazil. Louis Cartier designed the Santos de Cartier in 1904 for his friend Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who had difficulty telling time while flying using a pocket watch without taking his hands off the controls of his plane. The result—with its rounded square case and exposed screws—was the first pilot’s watch and one of the first mass-produced wristwatches.

Appropriately for someone whose image could use a revamp, for his second day in the House chamber, George Santos appeared to have swapped out the stainless-steel bracelet on his Santos for a blue rubber strap. Either way, the clock is likely ticking on his career in Congress.

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House Republicans, Back In Charge, Move To Undercut Ethics Office

A few innocuous-sounding passages buried near the end of Republican’s new House rules package could gut the chamber’s independent, nonpartisan ethics office.

Established by the House in 2008, the Office of Congressional Ethics reviews allegations of misconduct against lawmakers and their staff. If the office determines it has a “substantial reason to believe” an ethics violation may have occurred, it refers the matter to the House Committee on Ethics, which consists of an equal number of lawmakers from both parties. In almost all instances, the office’s reports become public (unlike investigations the committee initiates).

In the last Congress, notable subjects of the Office of Congressional Ethics’ inquiries included Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), Alex Mooney (R-W.V.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.). This session was shaping up to be a busy one for the office. Last month, 36 former members of Congress called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate lawmakers involved in the January 6th riot at the Capitol. The office might also be gearing up to investigate incoming Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) for, well, lots of things.

If the House passes the GOP’s new House rules, however, that work could get thrown off track. A clause on page 49 of the 55-page package would reinstate two four-year term limits for board members, which haven’t been enforced since 2014. It also could require the board to hire the office’s staff for the entire session within 30 calendar days of the rules package passing. Any new hires would require the approval of at least four board members. While those regulations may sound harmless, they could gut the office’s neutrality and staff.

Watch: Here’s How Much Speaker Of The House Makes (And It’s A Lot More Than A Regular Member Of Congress)

As the 118th Congress convenes, your correspondent joined Brittany Lewis in Forbes Newsroom to discuss congressional salaries.

Byron Donalds’ Campaign Incurred ‘Extremely High’ Legal Expenses

The campaign for Rep. Byron Donalds, the Florida Republican who emerged Wednesday as an opposition candidate for Speaker of the House, has spent at least $300,000 on legal fees since 2020, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

“Three-hundred thousand dollars in legal fees for a House campaign committee is extremely high,” said Brett Kappel, an attorney specializing in campaign finance at Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg. “You normally only see legal fees like that if the candidate is the subject of a criminal or House ethics committee investigation. The average House campaign spends less than $1,000 a month on legal fees.”

A spokesperson for Donalds said the fees mostly relate to two legal disputes, both of which have been resolved. The first of the matters appeared before the FEC. In August 2020, government-watchdog Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint, alleging that then-state Rep. Donalds violated federal law by illegally transferring money from his state PAC to a federal super PAC. The FEC’s general counsel said the commission “should find reason to believe” Donalds violated the Federal Campaign Act of 1971 and that there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation. But in a 3-3 vote along party lines in April 2022, commissioners deadlocked on taking any further action, ending the matter. The three Republican commissioners wrote “that there were insufficient facts [to support] the allegations.”

While Mom And Dad Fight Over A Speaker, House Members’ Kids Build Solo Cup Towers

“When Nancy Pelosi called the House to order in 2019 ‘on behalf of all America’s children,’ she was surrounded by the children and grandchildren of Congress. This week, members’ offspring were shoved to the side as moms and dads in the Republican-led House continued fighting over who would lead them,” reports Erin Spencer Sairam.

According to Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder and CEO of Vote Mama, a political action committee seeking to elect Democratic moms, as the days drag on, some members-elect are beginning to doubt how realistic it will be to have their families by their side when they are finally sworn in. “We are seeing in real time why Congress feels so inaccessible to parents with minor children,” Grechen Shirley said.

“There is no normal schedule, no consideration for how voting stalemates may impact childcare, and seemingly no concern about how parents are supposed to remain on-call for however long this vote may take,” she said. “The reality is, the system was not designed to support parents with minor children. The House speaker hold-up is a glaring example of how elected leaders are supposed to compartmentalize their role as parents in order to be taken seriously as legislators.”

This Is The Reason Trump Hid His Tax Returns For So Long

“It is not a big mystery why Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns. Just listen to what people close to the real estate developer have said over the years,” reports Dan Alexander:

“I think the reason that he doesn’t show his tax returns is it’s like three feet tall—and if you let that go, they would scrutinize everything about it,” said Phil Ruffin, the former president’s friend, fellow billionaire and Las Vegas business partner, in a 2017 interview with Forbes. “He would be doing nothing but explaining that away for the next four years. I wouldn’t do it.”

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former attorney, gave a similar explanation when asked about Trump’s returns during a 2019 congressional hearing. “The statements that he had said to me is that what he didn’t want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties, and so on.”

Trump had good reason to be concerned. The former president’s tax information had never been public until Friday—and some of it still remains shielded after the House Ways and Means Committee released years of paperwork. Yet practically every fragment of tax documentation to emerge over the years has led to consequences for Trump. The latest release could be the most damaging of all.

Across Forbes

In Closing

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day

Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

— Pink Floyd, “Time”

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