Over the past few weeks, an ongoing pattern of outright falsehoods peddled by Representative George Santos has emerged concerning his identity, education, sexuality, background, and heritage. Santos has conceded he dramatically embellished his résumé and, in some cases, flat-out lied—he didn’t work at Citigroup or Goldman Sachs or attend Baruch College and New York University Stern School of Business. All the while, Santos and his lawyer were bashing the media for focusing on his background.
Santos isn’t the first lawmaker to lie about his résumé. But he has something in common with at least two other now-former members of Congress who engaged in shady behavior: They all used the same political adviser.
That adviser would be Chris Grant, the founder of a firm called Big Dog Strategies (on his LinkedIn page, he describes himself as “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”). Grant is the link between former Representatives Chris Collins of upstate New York, Steve Watkins of Kansas, and Santos. He was a top consultant for all three candidates and now finds himself as one of the less scrutinized figures in the ongoing story of how a serial fabricator lied his way into a congressional seat (albeit one he has not yet formally taken because his party can’t seem to elect a speaker).
Big Dog Strategies lists over 80 Republican candidates and conservative organizations on its website. These include Republicans and allied groups at the presidential, federal, gubernatorial, and legislative levels. Santos, unsurprisingly, isn’t on this list. Some of the names listed are currently serving lawmakers like Tennessee Senators Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn and incoming Michigan Congressman John James. Collins is on the list, as is Watkins. In both cases, Big Dog Strategies is acknowledging that it vended for two disgraced politicians whose political black marks were hardly minor.
Collins was first elected to the House in 2012 from a Buffalo-area seat—defeating, interestingly, current New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who had won the seat the previous year in a special election.* Grant served as media consultant and chief strategist for that campaign. He then became Collins’s chief of staff, and in 2015 Grant had his house raided by both federal and state law enforcement officials in connection to probes related to the WNY Progressive caucus, a political committee.
Collins defended Grant at the time and kept him on as chief of staff, and Grant was never charged with anything. Two years later, though, the New York congressman hit a pothole of his own: Upon learning that an Australian biotech stock he had a stake in would tank, he schemed to conduct insider trading that would allow close family members and associates to avoid losses of over $750,000.
Grant had 23,300 shares of the biotech stock and sold them the same day that Collins’s son and his son’s “prospective father-in-law” sold their shares, according to The Buffalo News. In 2019, Collins resigned from Congress and pleaded guilty for lying to federal law enforcement officials and engaging in insider trading.
In the 2019–2020 campaign cycle, one of Big Dog Strategies’ clients was Kansas Congressman Steve Watkins. Watkins’s rap sheet is less sophisticated than Collins’s and closer to that of Santos. He inaccurately described his involvement in growing a private company—he said he started it rather than just helped expand it. Watkins also exaggerated his athletic prowess. He said on his campaign website in 2015 that he was the first person ever, in the same year, to compete in the Iditarod and also scale Mount Everest. He did do the Iditarod that year, finishing fifty-eighth out of 78, but an earthquake halted his plans to scale Everest, according to the Associated Press.
The earthquake ended up killing almost 9,000 people. Watkins’s campaign website quoted Guy Cotter, an accomplished mountain guide, as saying Watkins displayed “heroic leadership amid the chaos.” But Cotter denied ever saying that or even knowing that Watkins would quote him.
There were also questions about Watkins’s residency in Kansas. He listed a P.O. box as his residence to register to vote while crashing at his parents’ house. He lied to a detective who was investigating the voter fraud case. By 2020, Watkins would end up being charged with a trio of felony counts concerning voter fraud. That year the Federal Elections Commission investigated potentially improper “straw man” donations to Watkins’s 2018 congressional campaign, according to Politico. The donations were from Watkins’s father. In the 2019–2020 cycle, Watkins’s campaign paid Big Dog Strategies over $13,000, according to FEC filings. Watkins lost the Republican primary to Jake LaTurner.
Grant’s Big Dog Strategies was a “general campaign consultant” for Santos’s recent congressional campaign, according to FEC filings. Big Dog Strategies is mentioned in one of the earliest stories from The New York Times reporting on Santos’s manufactured background. The firm, “a Republican-oriented political consulting group that handles crisis management,” declined to answer questions from the Times. The list of lies from Santos is still growing but includes fabrications about his wealth, religion, education, work history, having lost employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting, running a charity for animals, and owning property. As he spends his first few days in Congress, Santos faces multiple federal and state investigations. Authorities in Brazil have recently said they plan to reopen a check fraud case against Santos that had previously been closed because he couldn’t be found.
When reached by The New Republic, Grant emailed a statement that, he wrote, needed to be used “in its entirety.” It reads:
Hundreds of clients in more than 40 states have hired us because we work hard, are loyal, and know how to win hard fights that we don’t shy away from. So while a lecture on ethics and integrity from The New Republic (of all places) brings a certain sense of amusement, we’ll continue doing what we do best—electing Republicans and conservatives who fight for American families and don’t back down to progressives[’] woke nonsense and hypocrisy.
The sarcastic line about being lectured on ethics and integrity by “The New Republic (of all places)” is a clear reference to the Stephen Glass scandal of the mid- to late-1990s. This magazine took the allegations of fabrication against Glass very seriously and conducted extensive internal reviews and owned up to its errors.
When I asked Grant if his firm would take steps to try and work only for clients who didn’t conduct insider trading or extensive lies to enrich themselves and rise to federal office, he responded, “You have my statement, and also my condolences on being burdened with that much sanctimony.”
In other words, Grant did not offer any indication that he would think twice before opting to advise the next Collins, Watkins, or Santos.
* This article originally misstated the congressman who defeated Hochul.