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For $350, George Santos will congratulate, cheer or troll you

Less than a week after his historic expulsion from the House of Representatives, ousted New York Rep. George Santos is speaking out — and he’s saying it for $350 a message.

The disgraced ex-congressman debuted Monday on Cameo, the video-sharing platform where users can commission a personalized message from actors, athletes and varying grades of celebrities. According to archived versions of his profile, Santos started with a $75-per-video fee and quickly upped it before landing on a rate of $350 at the time of publication.

The breezy tone of Santos’s Cameos belied the reality that on Friday, he became the sixth member to ever be expelled from the chamber. The bipartisan vote was a forceful response to the array of alleged crimes and ethics violations that emerged during Santos’s 332-day congressional career.

“He has — and I don’t say this positively — a very charismatic personality,” said Bruce Newman, a business professor at DePaul University who researches political marketing. “He’s effective at communicating his message, and he has no shame.”

Santos had a reputation as a fabulist even before he was sworn in to his seat in January 2023, lying about his vast personal wealth, his past as a collegiate volleyball star and his mother’s life having been “claimed” by the 9/11 terrorist attack. But a House Ethics Committee report released last month found that beyond fanciful claims in his biography, Santos allegedly stole campaign cash, lied to donors, reported fictitious loans and spent campaign contributions on “personal enrichment” such as casinos, Botox treatments, luxury shopping and payments to the adult content subscription site OnlyFans.

Santos, who did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday, appeared to be embracing his infamy. He billed himself on Cameo as both “The Expelled member of Congress from New York City” and “Former congressional ‘Icon’!” followed by the internet’s shorthand for sassy indifference: the painted nails emoji.

Before pausing his new profile Tuesday due to what he said was high demand, Santos has already taken several commissions, including a Hanukkah greeting and well-wishing on a new engagement. One of his earliest high-profile patrons was unexpected: Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who used a Santos Cameo to troll his Senate colleague, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Fetterman, whose representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has been among the loudest voices in the Senate to call for Menendez’s resignation. The New Jersey senator faces a federal indictment over allegations that he and his wife accepted bribes for political favors.

I thought my ethically-challenged colleague @BobMenendezNJ could use some encouragement given his substantial legal problems.

So, I approached a seasoned expert on the matter to give ‘Bobby from Jersey’ some advice.

— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) December 4, 2023

Santos endorsed the trolling, resharing the video on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter, and saying “I love this! I wish I knew the Bobby in question! LOL.”

Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt, an independent, was another politician who received a Santos Cameo, writing on X that a friend had sent her the “gift of the year.” Hunt, who has a transgender child and opposed an anti-trans bill in her state, earlier this year faced a since-dismissed ethics probe that accused her of having a conflict of interest related to the bill.

“Screw the haters, haters are going to hate,” Santos said in the video for Hunt. “Look, they can boot me out of Congress, but they can’t take away my good humor, or my larger-than-life personality nor my good faith and the absolute pride I have for everything I’ve done!”

Santos’s “larger-than-life personality” made him a headache for the Republican caucus and a recurring punchline for late-night comedians — including a recent memorable spoof on “Saturday Night Live.” But playing the ex-congressman’s audacious behavior for laughs strikes a dissonant note for those who note the seriousness of Santos’s alleged crimes and ethical breeches.

Santos also faces 23 federal criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Hunt later clarified on X that while she agreed with the advice he gave in the Cameo made for her, Santos had caused real harm to people with his behavior. She called him a “transphobic fool who has defrauded and harmed people, who says what he has to say to get attention and probably doesn’t actually hold any personal moral convictions.”

Newman, the business professor, said Santos hamming it up on Cameo videos probably has little to do with any strategy for reputation rehabilitation; it’s simply a way to make money, which he needs for his legal defense. He compared it to the effort by former president Donald Trump to appeal to supporters, often by claiming victimization and unfair treatment, to raise legal defense funds.

But Santos’s rise to Congress and his cavalier approach to the truth is a symptom of a more worrisome trend, where a single person can have such a large impact on a political party because they went largely unvetted, Newman said.

“[Santos] represents the power of personality,” Newman said. “The fact that someone like him can be so outrageous with his claims and lies and not wince when he talks to folks in the media about where he’s been, what he’s done … we live in a dangerous, risky time for the voter who doesn’t take the time to dig a little deeper than what they hear come out of the mouth of a politician.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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