ALBANY — A new legislative proposal inspired by the behavior of former Rep. George Santos would require political candidates to swear under penalty of perjury that what they tell voters about elements of their backgrounds is true.
The proposal would require candidates to swear that what they tell voters about any military service, college education, their residence or jobs is true, according to the bill sponsored by Sen. John Liu (D-Queens) and Assemb. Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington).
The bill carries a $1,000 fine for failing to file a statement to that effect with compounding fines for every day a candidate doesn't file the statement.
If the sworn statements prove to be false, perjury charges could result. The measure would require those statements to be filed with the county Board of Elections.
“In a normal world, this is not something I would have to legislate,” Sillitti told Newsday. “But we are in a different world where people think they can say just whatever they want to say.”
Santos was expelled by Congress from his 3rd District seat on Dec. 1 after a report by the House of Representatives ethics committee. The committee said it found substantial evidence that he violated campaign spending rules. Santos has admitted fabricating key parts of his resume, including that he graduated from Baruch College and worked for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs; he also didn't live where he said he did.
“Voters need to, at a minimum, know that statements have some credibility,” Liu said. “It’s imperative for democracy that this George Santos brand of politics ends in his expulsion from Congress.”
Under the bill, all candidates would have to make sworn statements filed with their county boards of election 15 days after they submit petitions and other documents to run for office. That is intended to give news organizations, the public and political opponents time to research and determine if the statements are true well before election days.
If a candidate refuses to file the statement, the county Board of Elections would post that fact on its website. In addition, failure to file the statement would trigger fines of up to $1,000 plus $25 per day for each day the statement isn’t filed. The bill also would prohibit candidates from paying the fines with campaign funds.
“Unfortunately, there are individuals who run for office who go beyond exaggeration and feel they can get away with just making up stuff,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY, a good-government group that supports the bill.
“The most important thing about this bill is it makes it clear it is in the interest of this state to have integrity in our elections and that the public policy of this state is to be truthful,” Lerner said.
The sponsors said they are confident the bill wouldn’t conflict with the state constitution or state election laws.
“It’s sad that we need to make that kind of public policy statement, but it’s important,” Sillitti said.