A watchdog group has launched an effort to enforce laws requiring...

A watchdog group has launched an effort to enforce laws requiring candidates to file legally required financial disclosure statements, citing a Newsday story that revealed cracks in the system. Credit: TNS/Kent Nishimura

WASHINGTON — A campaign watchdog group launched a drive Thursday to spur enforcement of laws requiring candidates to file legally required financial disclosure statements in the wake of expelled Rep. George Santos’ missing and allegedly fraudulent reports.

The Washington-based Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee against seven candidates running for the U.S. Senate from Michigan for failing to file financial disclosure reports and another against an eighth for allegedly fraudulent filings.

Kedric Payne, general counsel of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, said before the Santos scandal, “where you could see the problem that happens if you have fraudulent disclosures from a candidate,” few groups tracked missing and deceptive filings.

“A lot of people didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because it seemed as though it really wouldn't matter until the person gets into office,” he said. “But that just is too long to wait.”

Payne said the center would focus on the filing of financial disclosure reports by both Senate and House candidates as required by the Ethics in Government Act.

Payne called Newsday’s story in June about cracks in the financial disclosure system, revealed by Santos, the “inspiration” for his group’s drive to prod the House and Senate ethics committees to ensure candidates file timely and accurate reports.

In one complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee this week, the center requested an investigation into the failure of seven Senate candidates in Michigan to file reports, depriving voters of critical information about their finances and any conflicts of interest.

All seven have qualified under the Ethics in Government Act and all have spent more on their campaigns than the $5,000 threshold for filing the ethics reports, the center said.

In another complaint with the ethics committee, the center accused Democratic candidate Hill Harper, seeking to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, of failing to include his earned income, loans and contributions totaling more than $460,000 to his campaign.

At the time, Harper’s spokesman said Harper followed Senate ethics guidelines and would submit an amendment if necessary.

In its story, Newsday found that more than a third of the candidates running in New York for U.S. House seats in the past three elections failed to file campaign finance reports and that the House Ethics Committee rarely acts on candidates with little chance of winning.

Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) failed to file two disclosures and is accused of misrepresenting his finances on the two reports he filed. Federal prosecutors have charged him with two counts of making false statements for those reports. He has pleaded not guilty.

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