George Santos’ Cameo side hustle is perfectly ethical, experts say

3 months ago 209

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) walks with aides to the House chamber for a vote on a resolution to expel him from Congress at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

George Santos has a new side hustle: selling custom video messages on the app Cameo. And unlike some of the former congressman’s previous financial pursuits, this is a perfectly legal and ethical gig, according to experts.

After the New York Republican was expelled from the House earlier this month, Santos turned his talents to Cameo, an app that allows users to purchase personal videos made by public figures. Santos, who is facing 23 charges for wire fraud, identity theft, money laundering and other crimes, claimed to CBS that he made more money on the app in one week than he did after nearly a year in Congress with a $174,000 salary.

Santos’ videos, currently $500 a pop (the price has increased over time), have prompted a mixture of delight and mockery. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel pranked Santos into recording several videos for his show, and Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) purchased one to troll scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

“He has a First Amendment right to make whatever videos he wants. And I think the public is going to take these videos in context, given his reputation and his conduct, but he’s no longer subject to U.S. House ethics rules,” said Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.

Santos isn’t a congressman anymore and has every right to profit off the videos, said Kathleen Clark, a professor of law who studies government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. She pointed out that Cameo customers know where their money is going, “unlike those campaign donors who didn’t know that he was going to be scaling their credit card numbers or appropriating campaign dollars for personal purposes.”

Santos isn’t the first politician who tried to profit off his troubles with the law, Painter said. Former President Donald Trump has been selling NFTs since last December, and he recently announced that snippets of the suit he wore for his August mug shot would be available for purchase.

The New York Republican also isn’t the first former politician to make money off Cameo: Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin have both made videos on the app in recent years.

Richard Briffault, a professor of law who studies government ethics at Columbia Law School, suspects that users buy the videos based on Santos’ amusement value rather than his connection to the crimes he’s allegedly committed.

“People want to pay for sort of silly things when people misbehave. There’s not much you can do about it,” Briffaut said.

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