Soon after Sharon Bartlett announced she was running for the Huber city council she was approached by Ken MacDonald, a local campaign consultant. MacDonald said he was hardworking and “relentless” when working for his clients, stressing that he was especially successful in conducting opposition research. He mentioned a “bonus” he could offer as part of his contract: writing about the campaigns and the local political scene in his blog.
Sharon declined the offer, saying she had decided to count on her friends and family to help her with campaign strategy. MacDonald ended up working for her opponent, and began to increase his posts on “In the Kitchen with Ken” (which was subtitled “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”).
At first MacDonald used the blog to poke fun at her “homespun” campaign and make jokes about her height (she was just over 5 feet tall). As time went on the attacks increased. He wrote a blistering criticism of her remarks at a candidate forum and called her a “pathetic example of a candidate.”
Sharon decided to “toughen up” and ignore the lies that were being written about her. She assumed, as a political newcomer, this was just part of the “rough and tumble” world of local politics. Her supporters however, became enraged as each day a new post, unflattering Photoshop picture, or personal insult was published about her. More troubling were the articles that misrepresented her position on important city issues.
Sharon called a meeting of her campaign manager, family members, and key supporters to announce that she was not going to respond in any way. “The people who know me don’t believe anything he writes. I’m going to ignore it, and stay focused on the issues in this campaign. Besides, the voters are going to grow tired of this after a while.”
The next week she received a call from a friend asking her if she had “lost her mind” by creating a blog of her own. Apparently a new blog, titled “Krazy Ken” was posting dozens of insulting and hateful comments about Mr. MacDonald. Sharon was at a loss to figure out who created the blog. Everyone she spoke to was equally shocked, and she was receiving e-mails from voters criticizing her for this apparent act of retaliation. She began to worry about her chances of being elected.
The local newspaper picked up the story from an anonymous source and interviewed Mr. MacDonald and her campaign opponent who agreed “all indications point to Sharon."
The City of Huber had a Code of Ethics but it did not include any provisions for the actions of a candidate, his or her supporters, or “third party” independent involvement or expenditures. “We deal with folks once they have been sworn in to office,” said the city attorney. “During the campaign we support the right of free speech and maintain a ‘hands off’ approach.”
- What should Sharon do to reassure her supporters she did not initiate nor does she support the “Krazy Ken” blog?
- Is it possible Ken MacDonald himself writes “Krazy Ken” in order to draw attention away from the negative comments on his blog?
- Is this a case that a county or city ethics commission should handle?
- Should Sharon go to the media, including the editorial board, to denounce this? What else might she say to the media?
- Would talking to the press serve to highlight the mud-slinging and look like a face-saving effort?
- How can Sharon re-focus the campaign on important city issues rather than having this scandal overtake the campaign?
- What actions might be taken in the future to ensure campaigns in Huber were conducted in a more ethical manner?
Post your thoughts and suggestions so we can have a discussion of Sharon's options.