Small, local paper uncovered and reported George Santos scandal before November election

A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing newly sworn-in Rep. George Santos of illegally using campaign funds and masking the source of those funds. The North Shore Leader, a small paper on Long Island, broke the scandal before the November election. By the time other outlets picked it up, Santos had been elected. Grant Lally joined Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    As House Republicans get to work, one member in particular is coming under increased scrutiny.

    A campaign watchdog group filed a complaint today with the Federal Election Commission accusing newly sworn-in Congressman George Santos of illegally using campaign funds to pay personal expenses and of masking the true source of those funds. The complaint marks the latest potential legal trouble for the New York Republican, who has admitted that he lied about his family history, his resume, his education, all following a bombshell report by The New York Times last month.

    But The Times wasn't the first to report on Santos' fabricated biography. A small local paper on Long Island called The North Shore Leader broke the Santos scandal before the November election. By the time other outlets picked it up, Santos had already been elected.

    Grant Lally is the publisher of The North Shore Leader, and he joins us now.

    It's great to have you here.

    And your paper back in September wrote about Santos' rise and his reported net worth from basically nothing and 2020 to some $11 million by 2022. An inexplicable rise was how your paper characterized it. How did your reporters catch onto this story?

  • Grant Lally, Publisher, The North Shore Leader:

    Well, look, he was a prominent personality while he was running for office. And we're pretty attuned to the political activities of folks on the North Shore.

    So, a lot of people with a newspaper and a lot of people I knew outside the newspaper were following him and tracking him and looking at what his claims were. And what we all concluded was that he was a fraud. He was making things up and lying and boasting and putting people down, claiming he was such a rich man, when he clearly wasn't.

    And so we all smelled a fake, and we started looking through his campaign finance reports. And we saw a lot there that looked fraudulent, really over-the-top fraudulent.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What's your theory for why other outlets didn't pick up your paper's reporting until after the election?

  • Grant Lally:

    Well, I will tell you, it was very disappointing that that didn't happen. We did send the paper out to a lot of the local organs, a lot of the media.

    But, look, it was a busy year in New York. We had a very hotly contested gubernatorial election, which was within a few points. That dominated the news cycle. You also had a lot of other open congressional races in the neighboring districts. So a lot of the media got distracted in looking at really the bigger race, not the local races.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    You are a lifelong Republican who ran three times for the New York 3 District seat, the seat that Santos now occupies.

    And your paper reluctantly endorsed a Democrat in the run-up to the election, saying of Santos — quote — "He boasts like an insecure child, but he's most likely just a fabulist, a fake."

  • Grant Lally:

    We knew Santos was a fraud. We knew what he was claiming, what he was filing was fraudulent.

    And that is ultimately what's going to get him in trouble now. He can lie about who he is, his religion. He can claim he's a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors. That stuff won't get you in jail.

    But when you file false reports with the House of Representatives and with the Federal Elections Commission, deliberately, willfully false reports, that's going to get you in jail. Every — every offense is a felony, and it'll get you five years in federal prison.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Your paper's reporting speaks to the importance of local journalism. This is an era we have seen hundreds of local papers close in recent years. The disappearance has left millions of people without access to vital local news.

    What do you see as the significance of your paper's reporting on Santos in that context?

  • Grant Lally:

    Look, I have actually spoken to quite a few of the other local papers and their publishers and their owners around the area.

    I mean, they're very cheered by this development that we were able to break this story. And it is now a national story, unfortunately, but it is a national story. And we broke it. And it has reenergized a lot of the local newsrooms here in New York, but, also, I think, global — around the U.S.

    It's a tough business to be in. But it's also a niche because nobody else covers the local news in local communities like the local newspaper does.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Lastly, how are voters feeling about all of this, that their member of Congress effectively lied his way into his seat?

  • Grant Lally:

    In the North Shore, in this Third Congressional District, they are furious, particularly the Republicans, because they feel that they were used.

    They're — they — Santos took money from them. He took time from them. He got them into his scheme and got them to go out and talk to their friends. So they feel completely betrayed. And Democrats are outraged and, frankly, bewildered that they could lose to such a guy.

    But, I mean, the universal sentiment is that this is an outrage and this guy's got to go.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Grant Lally is the publisher of The North Shore Leader.

    Thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

  • Grant Lally:

    Thank you.

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