Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Creating an Ethical Political Climate

Candidates for public office in Santa Clara County and their staffs need to be educated on campaign ethics.

That was one of the main recommendations of the Political Ethics Forum convened in May at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics to discuss how the Santa Clara County Ethics Commission (SCCEC) could foster an ethical political environment.

"On June 24, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a commission proposal to institute an ethics education program for county employees and officials and for candidates and their campaign staffs," said Edie Kirkwood, chair of the SCCEC. The program will be developed in a process involving the SCCEC and the Ethics Center.

The supervisors also voted to establish contribution limits for supervisorial candidates and are considering limits for other elected county offices, she added.

Twenty-six community leaders, academics, politicians, and others participated in the forum, which provided commissioners with an opportunity for dialogue before they developed their final recommendations. "Over half of the participants in the forum mentioned the need for education or outreach either to candidates or county government," according to Kirkwood. Based on these conversations, the commissioners proposed an orientation program for candidates and county employees using an approach similar to the Ethics Center's framework for ethical decision making.

The Center's involvement in the forum grew out of a workshop last February conducted for SCCEC commissioners by Center Executive Director Thomas Shanks, S.J. "The general feeling [at that workshop] was that we would prefer to find a role for the commission that encouraged ethical behavior rather than only reacting to complaints," Kirkwood said.