Lessons from George Santos Background Misrepresentations
The New York Times dropped a bombshell article purporting that representative-elect George Santos lied about his education, work history, family background, and animal charity organization. Other allegations include Santo’s omission of certain personal financial disclosures and alleged check fraud in Brazil. This news is scandalous for the candidate and both political parties, highlighting the importance of executive due diligence investigations and how critical integrity is for corporate executives, and political leaders alike.
George Santos is Not the Only Political Official Who Has Lied or Embellished their Background
With the eye of the media and public are on George Santos’, this is not the first time a sitting politician has fabricated or embellished their background.
False Heritage Claims
The Forward, a Jewish American site, questioned Santos’ claims on his campaign site that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in the Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.” Santos told the Post. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”
Santos is not the first politician to make questionable claims about their heritage. In 2018, New York state Senate candidate, Democratic Socialist Julia Salazar’s claims of being a Columbian born immigrant who struggled financially while growing up were revealed to be false by an article in the Tablet. She was, in fact, born in Florida and has a trust fund. More notable is Elizabeth Warren who falsely called herself a native American, a continuing controversy. A 2019 article by the Washington Post revealed further that Warren had identified herself as Native American on her State Bar of Texas registration card.
Stolen Glory – False Military Service Claims
Others have claimed false military service or accolades. The NY Post pointed out that “Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), notably, lied for years about serving in Vietnam — when in fact he got five draft deferments, then scored a Marine Reserve spot to basically ensure he wouldn’t go to war.”
J.R. Majewski, a Republican House candidate in northern Ohio, who lost in November this year, promoted himself as having served as a combat veteran in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S. Air Force has no record of his service there, as the New York Times reported.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has lied about her background, as well. She often refers to her humble upbringing and as reported, (along with a number of other controversial observations), by the Daily Mail, “But despite making regular references to her Bronx origins, it was later revealed she mostly grew up in the wealthier Westchester County….court records show her late father bought a quaint three-bedroom in Yorktown Heights, New York in 1991, when she was about two,” noting this “apparent contradiction of her official biography, which states in part: ‘The state of Bronx public schools in the late 80s and early 90s sent her parents on a search for a solution.’”
Politics and Policy
When it comes to politics in the United States, the polarization has reached the fevered pitch of sports teams, or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) vs DC Comics (DC). People are more apt to vote along party lines and turn a blind eye to the ethics of candidates within their own party if they support their stances. Good sportsmanship has also gone out, no longer does it seem handshakes and well wishes are given to the candidate duly elected by the other side.
George Santos is not the only politician to have made egregious statements of questionable veracity, many of which have not been held accountable for their lapses in integrity. It is clear that an investigation is warranted, but it is equally clear that these investigations should be applied equally to both sides of the aisle.
A policy of ethics and integrity should also be the policy of any business. Due diligence investigations on prospective executives, board members, and business partners, along with transparency should be a standard practice.
What Business (and Politicians) Can Learn from the George Santos Scandal
Create a Culture of Integrity
Integrity is crucial for any organization to function effectively. It should be the primary consideration when making executive hires. A person’s character is truly tested when they are given power and it is crucial that leaders in the organization exhibit integrity and honesty in their behavior. This sets the standard for the rest of the company to follow.
Due Diligence is Critical
According to the NY Post, George Santos “was the Republican nominee against Dem Rep. Tom Suozzi in 2020, so nobody vetted him in two straight elections.”
Vetting your executive candidates is essential. The best way to keep bad actors and con artists out of your company is by prevent them from entering it in the first place. Due diligence investigations, particularly deeper level Tier III investigations, are critical in mitigating risk and discovering if someone is who they really claim to be. Executive due diligence investigations are designed to detect hidden and undisclosed information that is not readily available in standard background checks. Deep dive due diligence investigations can assess, among other indicators: educational and employment background, relationships of executives to foreign officials and other companies and entities, reputation issues, financial misconduct, legal issues, civil litigation issues, criminal history, political influence, conflicts of interest, shell company involvement, evidence of fraud, signs of money laundering, financial impropriety, behavioral issues, anti-competitive behaviors, and other serious matters.
A Tier III comprehensive due diligence investigation not only incorporates technology, such as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), but is conducted by expert investigators who are skilled at triangulating complex and disjointed information, searching for hidden connections, and investigative analysis where seemingly unrelated issues can come to light. The behavioral history of an individual can disclose observable patterns with type and frequency of issues such as, civil lawsuits, sexual harassment, class action lawsuits, fraud, and breach of contract matters.
Due diligence investigations are also important in global business. Most Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations could have been avoided if proper business due diligence investigations had been performed during Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) proceedings.
These due diligence investigations become even more critical when doing business globally.
Hire for Integrity
Not hiring for integrity can lead to serious financial and reputational injury to a business and its employees, Board, and stock holders. Scandal can ruin careers and businesses, and destroy people’s lives. Opting for standard background checks on executive hires and board members, or forgoing them completely, often results in serious consequences. Integrity is the one quality that every company should strive to hire for.
The Ends Do Not Justify the Means
Regardless of what someone’s personal goal is, the means matter. Executives (and politicians) should conduct themselves with honesty, respect, integrity, and equal applications, requiring it from themselves and others within their sphere. While voters cannot conduct deep due diligence investigations into all the political candidates, companies can and should perform Tier III due diligence investigations on executives they think to bring aboard. As Jack Welch once said, “In the end, your integrity is all you’ve got.”