Q: Let’s say the spouse of a candidate has a history of addiction. Is it fair to bring this up as a campaign issue?
A: The candidate’s family is not entirely separate from the candidate. Their histories, illnesses and addictions are part of what create that candidate as a human being. Suggesting that a spouse’s addiction doesn’t influence the candidate’s judgments, sympathies or outlook is hardly credible. So It is fair to note that a spouse has an addiction problem (present or past) because we have a right to vote for someone whom, insofar as it is possible, we have come to know.
Q: Is it reasonable to pass a job—such as direct mail, television production or polling—off to a junior associate without informing the client?
A: This answer evokes the favorite response of all ethicists: It depends. When I hire a firm, I understand that certain tasks will be undertaken by subordinates. It is the job of the client to clarify who will handle the account, and the job of the executive not to mislead.
The question grows murkier in the area of assumption. If I have dealt only with you, and feel you understand my needs, then it may come as a rude shock to discover that an anonymous neophyte holds my precious account in his callow hands. If you know the client labors under the assumption that you are doing the work, then you ought to gently let her know that tasks are shared in your office, but she can be assured that everything is completed under your omniscient eye.
Q: Is it ethical to run for office with the primary intention of using the campaign as a springboard for an appointed position?
A: No, not because the intention is unethical per se but because it will necessitate your lying. Statements in the campaign that declare your intention to do this or that when you take office, or to pronounce why you seek this office, will not be truthful. While statements of campaigners are in somewhat the same category as encomiums at eulogies—not to be taken at face value—there is something unsavory about entering a campaign with the express purpose of misrepresenting your hopes.
Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and lectures widely around the country. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.