‘Move Cautiously and Carefully’ with Ethics Decisions

If a man who works for a city government is married to a woman who is running an election campaign for a city councilmember, what ethical obligations would the man have as the campaign unfolds?

Brandolyn Pinkston of the SC Ethics Commission has several examples of reasonable steps the man should take to disassociate himself from the campaign. For example, he should ask his wife to refrain from posting a campaign sign in their front yard and avoid making campaign contributions from a joint checking account. If a campaign strategy meeting takes place at their house, he should not be home at the time.

Pinkston included this example as part of a presentation on workplace ethics, presented during the SC Utility Billing Association Annual Meeting.

The SC Ethics Commission, which Pinkston represents, advises on and makes formal judgments on issues of public trust such as financial and campaign disclosures of elected officials, lobbyist registrations and ethical rules of conduct. The Rules of Conduct, defined by the SC Ethics Reform Act, governs how public officials and employees should avoid conflicts of interest, disclosing confidential information or using government assets for election campaigns. The rules include:

  • A public official or employee cannot "knowingly use his official office, membership, or employment to influence a government decision to obtain an economic interest for himself, a member of his immediate family, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated."
  • Items of value cannot be given or promised to a public official or employee with the intent of influencing that person's official duties, nor can public officials or employees seek anything of value in exchange for official activity.
  • Public officials and employees cannot receive anything of value for speaking before a public or private group in their capacities as public officias, but they can accept meals that are provided to all participants in the group, and they can accept reimbursement of actual expenses incurred.

Pinkston described ethics as involving more than just thoughts and behaviors, but character as well.

"Character drives what we do when no one is looking," she said. "Each person has the ability to build, change or even destroy his or her own character. We can build our character through the way we live — by thinking good thoughts and performing good acts."

View summaries of the Rules of Conduct of the SC Ethics Reform Act.