Shades of Gray

Shades of Gray: Perspectives on Campaign Ethics

Candice J. Nelson
David A. Dulio
Stephen K. Medvic
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    Shades of Gray
    Book Description:

    To many, the term "campaign ethics" is an oxymoron. Questionable campaign conduct occurs at many levels, from national presidential elections to local delegate contests. Campaign ethics goes beyond mere "ethical dilemmas," or trying to decide whether or not a particular act is above board. The chapters in this volume examine the broad questions of ethics in campaigns from the perspective of those actors that play critical roles in them, as well as the scholars who study them. The contributors -who include leading academics, as well as practitioners from the world of campaigning and campaign reform -outline, assess, and critique the role and responsibilities of candidates, citizens, organized interest groups, political parties, professional campaign consultants, and the media, in insuring ethical campaigns. Contributors include: Robert E. Denton (Virginia Tech University), David A. Dulio (Oakland University), Brad Rourke (Institute for Global Ethics), Robin Kolodny (Temple University), L. Dale Lawton (Institute for Global Ethics), L. Sandy Maisel (Colby College), Larry Makinson (Center for Responsive Politics), Stephen K. Medvic (Franklin & Marshall College), Dale E. Miller (Old Dominion University), Candice J. Nelson (Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University), Mark A. Siegel (Office of Congressman Steve Israel), Paul Taylor (Alliance For Better Campaigns), James A. Thurber (Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University), Michael W. Traugott (University of Michigan), Carol Whitney (Whitney and Associatesand Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University), and William H. Wood (Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership, University of Virginia).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9884-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    James A. Thurber

    Elections are arguably the single most important event in American democratic life, as they are an opportunity for Americans both to give their consent to be governed and to hold their representatives accountable for past performance. Importantly, the quality of election campaigns has a direct impact on the health of democracy. Democratic elections are, or should be, competitive events. Yet while we expect vigorous campaigning focused on securing victory, we also expect campaigns and candidates to conduct themselves in a manner befitting the high offices they pursue.

    Unfortunately, the feast of democracy is no longer so nourishing. Some scholars and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • CHAPTER ONE Approaching the Issue
      (pp. 1-17)

      Many people snicker when they read or hear the wordscampaignandethicsin the same sentence. It is difficult to blame those who think thatcampaign ethicsis an oxymoron when one thinks about all the activities that occur during campaigns that can appear to be unethical—or at the very least questionable. One need only look to the last presidential campaign to see numerous campaign practices described as such.

      One of the lasting images of the battle between Vice President Albert Gore and Texas governor George W. Bush is the infamous “RATS ad.” The television advertisement in question,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Civic Responsibility or Self-Interest?
      (pp. 18-38)

      Conventional wisdom suggests that, from an ethical perspective, the conduct of those involved in electoral campaigns in the United States has deteriorated in recent years. Whether this is, in fact, true—and how we might know it—is the subject matter of this book. The rest of the chapters herein offer answers to these questions. Judgments about the ethical standing of campaign conduct, however, must be made in reference to some ethical standard. The purpose of this chapter is threefold. First, we offer a characterization of ethical standards generally. Second, we develop a framework that explains in abstract terms the...


    • CHAPTER THREE Promises and Persuasion
      (pp. 39-60)

      The idealist would respond to the original subtitle of this chapter—The Twin Dilemmas of Campaign Ethics—simply: “At last someone is talking about ethics in campaigns. It’s about time!” The cynic would respond: “Candidate ethicsis an oxymoron. Campaigns are all about being unethical; everyone knows that!” The pragmatist would respond: “Here we go again. Candidate ethics are all well and good in theory, but they can never work in practice!” And readers of Dale Miller and Stephen Medvic’s earlier chapter in this book undoubtedly recognize thatethicsas applied to campaigns will be interpreted differently, depending on whether...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Winning Ethically
      (pp. 61-74)

      When those of us at the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership tell people that we run a program designed to teach campaign ethics and practical strategy to novice political candidates, they usually respond with an incredulous smile. We hear a lot of obvious jokes. “A class on campaign ethics? Must be a short course!” Put simply, many people are skeptical about the subject of campaign ethics. Contrast this popular sentiment with our actual experience working in Virginia with novice candidates. Since 1997 the Sorensen Institute’s Project on Campaign Conduct¹ has been working to develop and test a unique candidate-training program...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Hired Guns or Gatekeepers of Democracy?
      (pp. 75-97)

      There has been a great deal of hand-wringing about the state of contemporary campaigns in the United States. While much of the criticism has come from journalists, academics have offered their share of complaints as well.¹ More often than not, political consultants are identified as a primary source of all that plagues our system of elections.² In fact, their deleterious effects are not just confined to U.S. elections; American consultants are also accused of “interference in the sovereign affairs of other nations.”³ So disgusted was theWashington Postwith the behavior of consultants that it likened the obsession with their...

    • CHAPTER SIX Wolves or Watchdogs?
      (pp. 98-109)

      Calling oneself aconsultantseems to be negative enough these days. But calling oneself apolitical consultantis, in the public’s mind, the equivalent of staking out territory somewhere below lawyers, used-car salesmen, and con artists, and around the level of pond scum. It is no wonder political consultants are not taken seriously when we talk about setting an ethical tone for the campaign. Thanks to the power of television, movies, and the media, the simple fact of our involvement in a campaign sends the signal that the ethics of this venture must be questionable.

      It can be argued that...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN It’s the System, Stupid!
      (pp. 110-127)

      Perhaps the most quixotic actors in the ethical dimensions of election campaigns are political parties. In this chapter, I argue that political parties do behave ethically in election campaigns, but that the structure of electoral competition the parties have created is itself unethical because it denies access to anyone outside the two major American political parties. These parties ensure the maintenance of the political system that favors them by manipulating laws and customs of the democratic process at the expense of the participation of other possible competitors. However, most observers of American election campaigns would not come to this conclusion...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Conduct, Codes, and Common Sense
      (pp. 128-150)

      Over the last political generation, and certainly in the post-Watergate era, the public’s perception of politicians—and political parties—has deteriorated.¹ This is manifest in public opinion polls and survey research as well as political behavior, most specifically in voting patterns and party identification. Since the classic studyThe American Voter, the percentage of Americans identifying with political parties has decreased dramatically.² The consequences of an increasingly tripartite electorate—composed of one-third Democrats, one-third Republicans, and one-third Independents—emerged most clearly in the summer of 1992 in support levels for Independent candidate H. Ross Perot, even though his idiosyncratic candidacy...


    • CHAPTER NINE From Campaigning to Lobbying
      (pp. 151-170)

      Interest groups and lobbyists are increasingly having an impact on the quality of American campaigns and elections as they become more influential. Their participation in campaigns includes promoting candidates and issues, raising money, and swaying voters. In addition, many groups provide critical campaign services such as issue advocacy advertising, polling, advice about media strategy, organizing get-out-the-vote (GOTV) strategies, and general tactical guidance for candidates.¹ However, scholars have focused on their monetary contributions to campaigns, especially through political action committees (PACs).² Less is known about the more subtle and nontransparent assistance to candidates, such as issue campaigns waged by groups or...

    • CHAPTER TEN What Money Buys
      (pp. 171-184)

      Interest groups have been around as long as politics has been around, but the nature of their influence and their effect on the ethical undertones of election campaigns have evolved in critical (and not particularly positive) ways in the modern era of dollar-dominated campaigning. Traditional broad-based organized interest groups—labor, big business, activists on issues like gun control or abortion, and so on—have been joined by influential groups whose areas of interest are much narrower and much less visible to the public at large. As money becomes an ever more important prerequisite to winning, the power of that second...


    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Form and Content of Political Communication
      (pp. 185-214)

      To address campaign ethics from a “media” perspective is a daunting task for several reasons. The first is the sheer complexity of the topic. Political campaigns are above all “mediated” events. Few Americans experience campaigns firsthand. We come to know the candidates and the issues through media portrayals of elections. In America, television has become the primary medium and tool of both political campaigning and governing. To complicate matters more, how we form political attitudes and images of candidates’ competence, leadership abilities, and character depends largely on the mediums we view and the messages we receive. Seldom does one message...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Watchdog, Guide, and Soapbox
      (pp. 215-224)

      How can the media foster ethical campaigns? They can do so by serving as a watchdog, a guide, and a soapbox—each a distinct role that carries a different set of responsibilities. The media do a reasonably good job in the first role but function poorly in the second and third, a spotty record that leaves them implicated in the decline of modern political campaigns. They are not the heavies of the piece, but neither are they innocent bystanders. To understand why, one need only follow the money. Not the political money, the media money.

      Before elaborating, I should make...


    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Electorate’s Responsibilities
      (pp. 225-238)

      Citizens sometimes face complex issues about how to choose between satisfying their own self-interest or the greater social good. While this may not be a broad definition of an ethical dilemma, these circumstances do place citizens in difficult moral positions. For example, they may face a choice between a candidate who promises to reduce their own taxes and one who promotes programs to improve the educational system under current tax rates. Or they may face the dilemma of supporting an interest group that promises to promote a cleaner environment but engages in tactics that distort or misrepresent the circumstances of...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN More than Voting
      (pp. 239-251)

      In 1998 the phone in the Columbus, Ohio, office of the Institute for Global Ethics was ringing off the hook. We had set up a “voter action hotline” for citizens to complain about the behavior of political candidates. The response overwhelmed the voice mail system within a day. One caller was a woman from northwest Ohio. The message she left was also a plea for help: “I’m tired of all of this. . . . I’m tired of being the silent majority. . . . We’ve got to start letting people know how we feel.” The desperation in her voice...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 252-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-262)