http://www.donotvoteformydad.com raises interesting questions about the ethical duties of families versus the ethical duties of citizens, bias, conflict of interest, and the difficulty of distinguishing ethical from unethical or non-ethical motives.
Oklahoma judicial candidate John Mantooth is finding himself under political attack by his own daughter, who has taken out a local newspaper ad warning voters: “Do not vote for my dad!” as well as launched a web site of the same name. In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jan Schill, 31, said she never had a good relationship with her father and just doesn’t think he’d make a good judge. “We just felt like it would be bad if he were to become a judge,” Schill told the paper from her home in Durango, Colo. “I assumed that he would not appreciate it, but he’s made so many people mad, I’m just another mark on his board of people’s he’s had a beef with.”
Candidate Mantooth says his daughter’s antipathy arose from his 1981 divorce from his daughter’s mother. Whatever its origin, the web site does not contain information sufficiently damning to justify itself as a whistle-blowing mechanism. If Mantooth’s daughter had special knowledge of hidden, secret, personal misconduct by her father so serious that it would call into question his professional fitness, then she could ethically justify taking the extraordinary measure of exposing her father’s lack of qualifications to voters in a jurisdiction where she doesn’t even live. If he was a drug-pusher, or collected child pornography, if he preached racism in the home, or operated a Hitler fan club under an assumed name. If he hid illegal aliens in the basement and manufacture fake IDs for them. If he molested her, or rented her out to business associates. These and similarly disturbing revelations would not only justify one family member opposing the election of another to public office, but make the conduct admirable, like reporting a close family member for ongoing criminal activity.
Mantooth’s daughter doesn’t have information like that, however. What she does have are court documents that record a nasty divorce, and other law suits where Mantooth was involved in controversies over matters like easements and keeping livestock where it was prohibited. Embarrassing, maybe; significant proof of unfitness for the bench? No. Not even close.
This means that the web site, and the ad, and Schill’s campaign against her father generally are not motivated by the public interest, but by anger and hatred of her father, creating the desire to hurt him. I believe there should be an inherent duty of loyalty among family members, but that has limits. Giving Schill the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that her father forfeited that loyalty by a sufficiently serious insult or offense, something that would justify her refusing to help her father, or endorse him, or even to say a good word about him if asked.
It would not, however, make purely vengeful conduct ethical. She may feel—and again, I will grant her the benefit of the doubt—that her father really wouldn’t make a good judge in McClain County, Oklahoma. She is still hopelessly biased in this conclusion because she is so angry with her father. Being biased, she has a conflict of interest, and cannot justify taking such a public stand that will not hurt her father’s career because of its content, but because she, his daughter, is taking it. The ad and the web site raise natural suspicions about any man who would arouse this much antipathy in his own child, and that is what they are calculated to do. They are below-the-belt punches in a private battle, using public embarrassment to settle personal scores.
“This is a family issue which should have been kept private,” Mantooth said. “I’m very sad about this. I’m very disappointed. I’m hurt, but I love my daughter, and I want things to get better, and I hope they will.”
Schill’s husband, Andrew, was once law partners with one of Mantooth’s opponents, Greg Dixon. Mantooth finds that to be a suspicious coincidence, and I don’t blame him, though Dixon has denied any complicity in the attack ad and website. Whether he or Jan Schill’s husband helped persuade Jan to hurt her father in this very public way doesn’t increase or lessen the ethical offense. Personal conflicts should be handled personally and privately, whether a party to them is a public figure or not. Setting out to destroy anyone’s reputation in this way is wrong; setting out to harm one’s parent’s reputation is more wrong.
Even disqualifying loyalty, the web site is unfair, disrespectful, disproportionate, mean-spirited, and cruel. It is unethical because it is hateful, and nothing ethical ever comes of hate.