Due Diligence in Politics: Just as Important as in Business

Best practices dictate that when recruiting top level professionals or vetting potential business partners, companies need to obtain verification of the information that is provided by the candidate or subject, along with an investigation to uncover undisclosed information. This is becoming more and more standard practice in the private sector, but what about the political arena?

The people that create our laws and act as a voice of the people must undergo some sort of screening process, right? The answer may surprise you.

Politicians and Background Checks

Due diligence is widely seen an essential step in the hiring of top professionals in the largest corporations and legal firms, and is becoming more and more prominent in the investment and M&A; scene. Oddly enough, there is not a specified background screening program for politicians. During every election cycle, candidates from all parties and walks of life have been caught hiding embarrassing information from the voters. Political figures, both current and historical, are not immune to the imperfections of human nature, putting them in the “hot seat” during or after their career.

Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant are just a few past political figures whose past actions might have shown up as “red flags” on a background check.

Do Elected Officials Go Through Due Diligence?

Currently, politicians are not required to partake in due diligence from what is known. In most instances, the election process itself is a validation of the elected official to bypass background screening and receive any security clearances. Most political appointees, such as high-ranking presidential advisors, ambassadors and cabinet members, will have Federal Bureau of Investigation checks and certain vetting procedures performed on their financial and employment histories, but typical due diligence is not completed. A cabinet member is nominated by the President and then presented to the Senate for confirmation or rejection by a simple majority. The members of a cabinet are serving at will and can resign or are dismissed by the president, and then the whole process starts all over again.

The inauguration of a new president brings changes in philosophy, leadership and staffing. Thousands of new personnel need to be screened, vetted, confirmed or hired in a very short amount of time to take over spots vacated by the outgoing administration. As the confirmation hearings are set to begin, there have been news stories noting that some of the new president’s administration nominees have not been properly screened and vetted via the Office of Government Ethics. Walter, M. Shaub Jr, director of the Office of Government Ethics stated his concern in a letter to Congress saying it has “left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.” However, the hearings will more than likely take place without the completed review


Security Clearances for Elected Officials

Members of Congress, Cabinet members and administration official have access to classified information. To receive sensitive data, these public officials need to obtain a security clearance. Security clearances for elected officials are based on a “need-to-know” and tradition. This means they will only be granted access to classified information when they need to know it. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, there are not specific written rules on who receives the information or how it is shared. The Office of Senate Security and the Office of House Security are in-charge of the security clearance process for Congress and any due diligence is conducted by the FBI.

The Great Political Background Screening Debate

There have been debates for years between opponents of background screening for politicians and those that believe that it should be done on every candidate. The proponents believe this is a way to deter future scandals while opponents believe that it could compromise the independence of legislators on all levels of government. This debate isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Every organization is different and requires unique solutions for the vetting process. While politicians might not be required to participate in due diligence, their voters will continue to be. Sterling Diligence (formerly Bishops®) provides insights and critical information on due diligence best practices, along with unparalleled investigative expertise, so that your organizations can make decisions based on the most accurate information available. You can click here to read more on the due diligence services Sterling Diligence (formerly Bishops®) provides.