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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Mudslinging or Relevant Information

When is a candidate's personal life fair game?

Hana Callaghan

Election Day is in two weeks. George Blackwell is polling dead even with his opponent. A generous campaign donor, discouraged by Blackwell’s polling numbers, approaches him with information that his opponent has a rocky marriage. The donor insists that the information was received from a trusted source and strongly encourages Blackwell to leak the news to the press. Blackwell’s opponent is running on a “family values platform.” The Blackwell campaign has no time to vet the information. Not wanting to offend his donor, and desperate to improve his standing in the polls, Blackwell directs one of his campaign staffers to go the press.

Did Blackwell make an ethical choice?

Hana Callaghan, director of Government Ethics for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, wrote this case for her online course, How to Run an Ethical Political Campaign—and Win.

Jan 22, 2016
Government Ethics Stories