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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Government Ethics

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics explores Government Ethics issues including campaign ethics, conflicts of interest, gifts to officials, transparency, budgeting, and other topics.

What Is Government Ethics?

by John Pelissero, Senior Scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago

"On taking office, every public servant, elected or appointed, enters into a covenant with the people: that as a public official they will seek to promote the public interest in all political processes and ensure that policy adoption and service provision occur without favoritism or discrimination. Moreover, a public official must not use her or his position for personal gain and should avoid even the appearance of having a conflict of interest. An ethical awareness of the obligation to act in the public interest will normally promote fairness and justice, and advance the common good."

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Briefing on the Ethical Issues Related to Voting Rights During the 2022 U.S. Elections

John Pelissero, Ph.D., senior scholar in government ethics, discussed the growing ethical issues related to voting rights and election administration in the United States. Pelissero explained the ethical implications of new state legislation that is intended to restrict voting rights and other legislation that would interfere with fair election administration and security. These issues could potentially impact the outcome of the 2022 elections. 

View the Government Ethics Briefing Video and Slides

Commentary on Government Ethics

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen interferes with the states’ right to create new constitutional limits to enforce sensible gun control regulations.

Church sign in front of the Methodist Church Building in Washington DC, Capitol Hill. User:ᖷᖴ/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Adoption of public policy on responsible, common sense gun safety is not only overdue, its absence from bipartisan agreements has become morally untenable.

Come and take it flag at Minnesota State Capitol gun rights rally.

Our current political system is hopelessly corrupt in that basic ethical principles, such as working for the common good rather than one’s own self-interests of power and money while ignoring conflicts of interest, prevent elected leaders from supporting and incorporating policies and laws to minimize gun violence.

City Hall Building

State and local governments’ adoption and implementation of ESG is becoming an important ethical value in jurisdictions across the country.

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    Government Ethics Fellowship

    The Government Ethics Fellowship is open to current first years, sophomores, and juniors with a major or minor in Political Science.

    Fellows work approximately four to five hours per week on projects at the intersection of policy and ethics with Professor John Pelissero, senior scholar and director of government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. 

    Meet the 2022-23 Government Ethics Fellows

    Code of Ethics Guidelines

    Writing a code of ethics? View samples curated from professional associations and state and local governments.

    Browse Samples

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    Government Ethics Resources

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    Browse our commentaries on civic virtue, campaign ethics, lobbying, and current events.


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    Navigate here to Review Cases

    Dive deep into real-life conflicts of interest, whistleblowing, gifts and bribes, and cronyism.


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    Navigate here to View Videos

    Hear what our staff and fellows are saying about voting, public trust, transparency, and more.


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    Voting for Ethics: A Guide for U.S. Voters

    “Voting for Ethics” is a non-partisan, how-to guide for U.S. voters. It will help you identify the hallmarks of an ethical candidate and make a more informed decision -- whether for your local school board or a national election.

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    Campaign Ethics: A Field Guide

    This guidebook is designed to help those managing or engaging in political campaigns do so in an ethical manner. It also serves as a valuable resource to voters, helping them identify the hallmarks of an ethical campaign.

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    Recent Media Mentions

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    John Pelissero, senior scholar in government ethics, quoted by the Toledo Blade.

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    John Pelissero, senior scholar in government ethics, quoted by Reader's Digest.

    Rep. Mark Finchem, of Arizona, speaks during an election rally in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 13, 2021.  AP Photo, Steve Helber, File

    John Pelissero, senior scholar in government ethics, quoted by The Arizona Republic.

    Arizona Democratic candidate for Governor Katie Hobbs speaks to the media before dropping off her primary election ballot Tuesday, July 21, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin via AP Photo

    John Pelissero, senior scholar in government ethics, quoted by The Arizona Republic.