Ethics Double Dunces in Ohio: McDonald’s Owner Paul Siegfried and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R, OH.)

The great state of Ohio gave us two Ethics Dunces last week, both related to the upcoming election, both Republicans, both outrageous. Your call as to who was worse; it’s awfully close:

1. Paul Siegfried, Ohio Ethics Dunce #1: The owner of several McDonald’s in northeastern Ohio  distributed Republican campaign material to his employees and added a threatening note to their paycheck envelope “suggesting” that three G.O.P. candidates receive their support.

“If the right people are elected we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.”

Needless to say, this is an abuse of power and coercion that has the effect of taking free choice in the election booth away from American citizens, robbing them of a core right.  The incident shows how the internet has made some kinds of unethical practices difficult, if not impossible. This sort of thing used to be common; now, thanks to the 24 hour news cycle and the Web, any business owner foolish enough to do this will find himself nationally embarrassed.

Siegfried apologized once the story erupted, and said employees should vote for whomever they want to. Of course, the damage was done, and he had made his point.  And it seems that he still doesn’t get it. “Distributing this communication was an error of judgment on my part,” Siegfried’s written statement said. “Please know it was never my intention to offend anyone. For those that I have offended, I sincerely apologize.” Of course it wasn’t his intention to offend anyone; it was his intention to bully employees out of their right to vote for who they wanted to, and didn’t care who he offended. His apology’s wording shows that he is sorry that he got caught and that now people are angry with him.

As with many kinds of unethical conduct involving elections, what Siegfried did probably should be illegal, and involve heavy fines. In the meantime, Ethics Alarms will do its part to make sure Siegfried’s strong-arm tactics in support of Republicans earns him a reputation as an Ethics Dunce.

Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio Ethics Dunce #1: Well, here’s a Republican incumbent who probably shouldn’t be re-elected tomorrow. Rep. Jean Schmidt, asked to speak to a Catholic school assembly, unexpected launched into a discussion of the morality of abortion, which she opposes, in front of an audience with members as young as six. The principal had to apologize to parents, as well as alert them that their children might have been frightened and confused after hearing about babies being killed in the womb.

It isn’t just that some of our representative in Washington become isolated from the needs and desires of common citizens. Some of them, like Schmidt, lose contact with common sense, decency, and the nature of the human race. Every audience is the same, a target to be talked at with canned positions and rhetoric. A good conservative, Schmidt would undoubtedly be screaming for any teacher’s head who spontaneously told her fourth grade class about birth control, yet she blandly discusses abortions in front of first graders.

Schmidt’s Democratic opponent, Surya Yalamanchili, said in a released statement: “I consider the Congresswoman’s comments to these children to be very concerning. It showed the same awful judgment that she has displayed in Washington.”

I believe it.


2 thoughts on “Ethics Double Dunces in Ohio: McDonald’s Owner Paul Siegfried and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R, OH.)

  1. I am a Democrat, and I agree political material should not be distributed in this way- but I think this is a poorly supported accusation.
    It appears you argument is based on some assumptions about the McDonalds employees who received this letter. The assumption seems to be that these employees are incapable of having an opinion of their own, or are gullible enough to believe that they could suffer direct consequences as a result of not voting as the Mcdonalds owner suggests. Are you trying to suggest that the owner intended to ask his employees who they voted for? If so, you are making a huge assumption that is in no way supported by the facts of this story. He did not rob them of their right to vote or make a decision- they still are more than free to chose the candidate of their choice, with no consequence from him. He did not threaten them in any way- the situation that he alludes to is the apparent economic policies that the owner believes would come to fruition if Democrats were elected in his area. No where does he threaten or bully his employees into voting one way or another, or state that there will be direct consequences from him. Are you assuming that because these employees work at Mcdonalds that they could fear for their employment, as though he would fire them if they vote Democrat? That they are being coerced?

    By assuming that Mcdonalds employees are incapable of making their own decisions or that they would be more susceptible to such suggestions than a white collar worker is disrespectful- this story glazes over the facts in a horribly partisan way to paint a sinister picture about a man who for all we know treats his employees like they are members of the family. You should do your homework instead of regurgitating news.

    • Sorry Kimberly: How he treats his employees otherwise and in other contexts is 100% irrelevant. It’s an abuse of power, period. Putting a suggestion of how to vote with a pay check is an implied threat, or has the appearance of one. You seem to be under that misapprehension that an act is only unethical if it has its desired effect. Why, pray tell, was the note included at all? To influence his employees’ vote, of course, with the implied threat that “unless my candidates win. you will suffer.” He doesn’t have to follow up: maybe he’s bluffing…but he is still using the inherent power he has as an employer to try to coerce his employees to vote as he wants them to. That is wrong…per se.

      Your contention that this isn’t a threat is laughable. How can you possibly say that? Read the phrasing of the note–why is it being sent at all? No reputable company would permit such a message; it would be illegal in a government context. He is using his position as boss inappropriately, to influence his employee’s vote. Unethical. Easy call. The act is sufficient to condemn it—whether it will have an effect or not doesn’t figure into the calculation.

      I am not “regurgitating news”—I analyze news from an ethics perspective, and the news stories left that perspective unexplored, talking abut law and policy, as usual. The fact that you think how the owner treats his employees at other times has any bearing on this conduct shows that you need to do your ethics homework, as does the media, and as does the McDonald’s owner.

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