When Worlds Collide: Maryland’s Attorney General Doug Gansler Flunks His Ethics Test

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) is running to be his party’s nominee for Governor, which, since Maryland is one of the Bluest of states, means that success equals the statehouse, or should. But the intense spotlight that such a quest creates can be hot and unflattering, and Gansler’s character and integrity is now being called into question…especially after this photo from last summer surfaced on Instagram, showing Maryland’s top law enforcement official in the middle of a wild teen beach party at a beach house by the Delaware shore. He’s the guy in the white shirt and the cell phone:

Gensler Party

There you have it: the exact moment when Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father of a Teenage Son Who Graduated From High School And Wants To Party With His Friends Like In “Animal House” Gansler officially collided. Many, especially many Democrats, especially many Bill Clinton fans, and definitely aspiring toyboy lawyer Brian Zulberti, would argue that only one of them is really there: Father Doug. The others, being absent, are immune from criticism. This position is popular, convenient, lazy, ethically corrosive and wrong. There is only one Doug Gansler, yes, but he is bound by three standards of conduct. When you are bound by three standards of conduct, you have to abide by the highest one.

Again, this situation focuses our attention on integrity, a core aspect of character, and crucial to ethics. Does an individual have genuine principles that he oe she lives by, or a constantly shifting set of values that are assumed and then discarded according to situation, convenient, strategy and whim? When an ethical problem arises, do others know how the individual will respond? Are his words consistent with his actions? Trust means that others can rely on an individual’s conduct, and you can’t rely on the conduct of someone whose values and priorities with the wind, locale, attention and personal desires.

Then there is the issue of judgment. Judgement is like intelligence and common sense: an individual either has it, or he doesn’t. And such traits as responsibility, accountability, honesty, prudence, dignity, loyalty  and courage come into play. I know those who embrace the private individual/professional dichotomy are stuck with the argument that the absence of  one or more of these in a private setting has no predictive value regarding public or professional conduct, but it is a hopelessly untenable position, pure denial, and ethics poison.

Gansler arrived at the beach house to check on his son, as he should have: he was one of the parents who approved and even signed the conditions for “Beach Week,” for which this document laid out the rules. Of course, as a law enforcement official in Maryland who has advocated tougher enforcement of alcohol restrictions for teens (Maryland, with lots of rich kids getting fast cars as graduation presents, annually generates several horrible fatal accidents involving red BMWs or convertables full of drunk kids), Gansler shouldn’t have signed the document at all.* It tacitly approves of underage consumption of beer by non-residents of the house involved. You can’t be an attorney general and Cool Dad. It can’t be done; it’s a conflict of interest. One can’t be Cool Dad and a candidate for governor, either. If Gansler can’t figure that out, if he hasn’t seen how the misadventures of politicians’ children have derailed political careers, plans and agendas for centuries, then he is too ignorant, reckless or dumb to hold any high office. The man must be wretched at Ethics Chess: how hard is it to calculate the possibilities and realize that allowing one’s teenage, under-age son to party on with his friends is setting the stage for disaster? All right, he trusts his son: does he trust everyone else at the party too? How remote is the possibility of drugs, terrible damage to the house, intruders, an orgy, a drunken riot or a raid? Answer: not remote enough, and if the party turns into a scandal, Attorney General Gansler and Candidate Gansler will pay the price, along with the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, the Maryland Democratic Party and the state.

So Gansler was right to check on his son, but he didn’t really check, did he? I mean, look what he saw! He just dropped in and dropped out, thinking “I did NOT see that.” Not good enough…not if you are an Attorney General who claims the teen alcohol abuse is a big problem Gansler was obligated to be Responsible AG, Role Model Candidate, and Ass-Hole Dad. He had to shut down the drinking. He had to kill the party. He could not allow a party that he approved violate the laws of Delaware, even though he had no jurisdiction there. Gansler didn’t do this, because he either didn’t have the guts (bad) or didn’t understand his professional obligations (worse). For the apprentice ethics chess players out there, here is the sequence of decision points, with each one, the ethical noose tightens:

>Decision point I: Should Gansler let his teenage son go to a party of happy, barely supervised teens on the Delaware shore?

Ethical Answer For Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father Gansler: NO.

Gansler’s Decision: YES>>>>>>

Ethics Verdict: UNETHICAL

Reasons: “Yes” is irresponsible, imprudent, incompetent (dumb)

>Decision point II: Having irresponsibly agreed to allow the son attendance at said party, should Gansler sign an approval form that sanctions law-breaking?

Ethical Answer For Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father Gansler: NO.

Gansler’s Decision: APPROVAL>>>>>>

Ethics Verdict: UNETHICAL

Reasons: Approval is irresponsible, a breach of principle, a breach of integrity for a law enforcement official, a breach of duty to the law and his constituency, a conflict of interest (his son’s enjoyment vs. his duties as a lawyer, law enforcement official, leader and role model), and incompetent (poor judgment).

>Decision point III: Having irresponsibly agreed to allow the son attendance at said party, and  signed an approval form that sanctions law-breaking, should Gansler check on the party to make sure that no actual law-breaking is occurring?

Ethical Answer For Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father Gansler: YES…BUT only if he is prepared to act if he observes illegal and inappropriate conduct by the partiers, or the risk of it.  If he is not so prepared, then the second most ethical answer is NO. That is not to say that avoiding the party is ethical at this point, for it is not. It would be “willful or contrived ignorance,” a device where an individual avoids learning facts that would require action or create accountability. This is Albert Spear stuff: contrived ignorance is always unethical, if often pragmatic. (Thus President Obama’s Chief of Staff allegedly made sure that the President never found out about the IRS sabotaging tea party groups during the 2012 campaign). But knowing about misconduct and doing nothing is more unethical than knowing something is probably wrong and avoiding confirmation.

Gansler’s Decision: HE CHECKS>>>>>>

Ethics Verdict: ETHICAL, if he intends to act when duty requires

Reason: Because of his prior decisions, it is the only responsible course open to him.

>Decision point IV: Having irresponsibly agreed to allow the son attendance at said party, and signed an approval form that sanctions law-breaking, and responsibly decided to check on the party he approved, should Gansler take action when it is obvious that underage drinking (law-breaking) is occurring at the party?

Ethical Answer For Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father Gansler: YES. HE MUST.


Ethics Verdict: UNETHICAL

Reasons: Breach of responsibility as a parent, lawyer, law enforcement official, and candidate, Breach of integrity as a public opponent of underage drinking. Incompetent (Poor judgment, stupid, ignorant—the chances of a photo being taken and circulating are high). Cowardly.

Then came the moment of truth, literally, when the photo surfaced, and Gansler was asked to explain. This is when we learn about the character our our leaders and potential leaders, when they have to own up to poor judgment, show that they understand what was wrong with their conduct, and be accountable. Here is how Doug Gansler performed on his final ethics exam:

  • He told the Baltimore Sun that he didn’t recall seeing anyone drinking. This was an evasive and dishonest answer: “I don’t recall” is the under oath respite of a skilled liar. But Gansler isn’t skilled, look at the photo. ( Jay Leno: ““This is great…Here’s an actual picture from the party. Yeah, that’s the attorney general there – and he didn’t know if there was any drinking going on? Even Miley Cyrus called and said, ‘Hey, keep it down. Will ya? Jeez.’”)
  • “There could be Kool-Aid in the red cups,” Gansler said. Now he’s playing lawyer games. There could be Skittles, bedbugs or crack in them too, but Doug Gansler knows and knew what was in them, and he’s insulting the intelligence of the public by mentioning Kool-Aid.
  • Another telling Gansler quote: “Assume for purposes of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party. How is that relevant to me? … The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state? I say no.”


1. Deceit: there was widespread drinking, and he knows it. 2) How is that relevant to him? He’s a law enforcement officer. He’s sworn to uphold the law. He’s argued that parents have an obligation to prevent underage drinking. By accepting the law-breaking and doing nothing, he  endorses and ratifies it. 3) An adult, a lawyer and a law enforcement official always has moral authority when law breaking is going on. This part of the statement endorses abdication of the duty to enforce societal standards.

  • And this: “How much do you let them go? How much do you rein them in? . . . I’m really no different from any other parent.” Yes, he is. He is an attorney general. This makes his decision easy, or should. He is also claiming to be worthy to lead a state, meaning that he is accepting responsibility for the highest standards of legal and ethical conduct, as all leaders must.
  • “I didn’t see anybody in front of me clearly in danger or in any risk.” Again, baloney: spin and obfuscation. There was $50,000 damage to the house: even that photo shows that it was a wild party. If under-age teens were breaking Delaware law and getting drunk, by Gansler’s own past statements on the subject of teen drinking there was both risk and danger. He is a hypocrite.
  • “My responsibility is only to my child. Everybody has their own moral compass. Mine is to raise my own child.” Ugh. The worst! 1. No, as a law enforcement official, Gansler has accepted responsibility for everyone’s child. As someone presuming to run for governor, he is asserting that he is capable of protecting the welfare of everyone’s child. 2. Leaders and law enforcement officials are responsible for pointing where everybody’s moral compass should point. If he isn’t willing to make definitive statements about right or wrong, Gansler should get out of law, government and public service. 3) And Genler’s moral compass apparently accepts law breaking as long as it’s in another state. Good to know.

The grade on Doug Gansler’s ethics final:


Now that he has been raked over the coals by the Republicans and the news media, and everyone from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to political consultants have told him that his words and conduct were, to say the least, inappropriate, Gansler has huddled with advisors and come out with a new narrative. Now he says he made a mistake. Now he says he should have spoken to the adult chaperones at the house and insisted that they get the party under control.

Too late. For Attorney General Doug Gansler, Candidate for Governor Gansler and Father of a Teenage Son Ganlser, the worlds of family, private life, professional life and public life collided, and the collision exposed one man’s character, as such collisions do.

*From the Sun article:

“Gansler has publicly advocated against underage drinking, appearing less than a year ago in a video for the Century Council, a nonprofit that works to combat both teen drinking and drunken driving. “Parents, you’re the leading influence on your teen’s decision not to drink,” Gansler said in a video filmed as part of the organization’s “Ask, Listen, Learn” initiative to persuade parents to talk to middle-school children about drinking. “It’s never too early to talk with your kids about smart ways to say no.”‘


Sources: Baltimore Sun 1, 2; Washington Post 1, 2; Policy Mic, NPR, Daily News

20 thoughts on “When Worlds Collide: Maryland’s Attorney General Doug Gansler Flunks His Ethics Test

  1. He told the Baltimore Sun that he didn’t recall seeing anyone drinking. This was an evasive and dishonest answer: “I don’t recall” is the under oath respite of a skilled liar.

    What was in their hands?

    Frothy mugs of water?

  2. Give him an F for his use of compass analogies, too.

    “Everyone has their own moral compass…”?

    If everyone’s compass is pointing in different directions…then most of those compasses are broken.

  3. Here’s the question I would have asked Gansler: Would you have done the same thing if you didn’t know any of the kids? Before you became Attorney General, you were the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County, and incidents like this would have landed in your office. So if police had broken up a loud teenage party like this and made arrests for minor in possession of alcohol, would you have recommended your office press charges against them, or would you have let them go like you did here? Before answering, keep in mind that your office’s charging history is a matter of public record.

  4. Jack — Everything you said is absolutely correct, assuming that there was alcohol in the cups. It could have been soda. Most kids buy 2 -liters and not cans. I’m not defending him — I’m just a diet coke addict and had my suspicious looking red cup investigated by many a teacher and parent back in the day. The picture alone just looks like a normal teen beach party to me — but obviously some of the kids might have been drinking.

      • Jack — when is the last time you’ve seen a teen party? To older eyes, they all look like drunken orgies and all kids look like monsters. To my younger, well-trained, former party girl eyes, I would actually bet that there was NO alcohol here. First, none of the girls are topless. Second, where are the drinking games? Third, once an adult arrives, if there is alcohol, everyone scatters or immediately dumps their red cups. Here, some people still are dancing.

        Again, I don’t know — this is just a picture. Perhaps this guy is one of those horrible parents who lets kids drink as long as he knows about it. And maybe this is a lame drinking party that just hasn’t gotten out of control yet. I don’t know — and neither do you.

        If I were this guy, I would have emphatically said that I saw the party and did a thorough investigation to make sure that no drugs or booze was present. That’s what any responsible parent would do — whether or not he/she was running for office.

        • Wait — there was $50,000 damage to the house? Okay, obviously the party was out of control. But I still wouldn’t use this picture as conclusive evidence — I would use the damage assessment.

          • This is the problem with rich, entitled kids. They don’t have basic skills. The clean-up crew (including dry wall and electrical experts) would should up the next day after our parties. We could never fix/hide the landscaping damage, but there never was a $50,000 damage assessment to the house itself.

        • “Jack — when is the last time you’ve seen a teen party?”

          By night, Jack is a professional party crasher. I didn’t want to dime him out but I noticed he randomly sauntered in to my Hispanic neighbor’s birthday party, no one questioned his arrival, he just nonchalantly picked up the piñata bat and busted it open. As he walked out, he said “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis, stay thirsty my friends”. So I wouldn’t doubt he’s seen his fair share of teen parties.

          “To older eyes, they all look like drunken orgies and all kids look like monsters.”

          For someone who claims to abhor generalizations, you sure use a lot of them.

          “To my younger, well-trained, former party girl eyes, I would actually bet that there was NO alcohol here. First, none of the girls are topless.”

          I don’t think that is a logical implication. But revealing nonetheless.

          Look to the top left of the image, there is a girl in red, just to the left of the girl in a white shirt with an unusually long neck. She’s holding a can. At giraffe girl’s feet appear to be another can, and on the floor below her next to a red cup appear 2 more cans. Perhaps cans of diet coke?

          “Second, where are the drinking games?

          I don’t know, we’re looking at about 1/16th of the whole house and probably 1/50th of the whole property in this image.

          “Third, once an adult arrives, if there is alcohol, everyone scatters or immediately dumps their red cups. Here, some people still are dancing.”

          Unless it is a specifically adult sponsored and CHAPERONED party as this one is. Also, please note in the top right of the image, what appear clearly to be two adults with what very strongly appear to be wine glasses and wine. It’s not hard to imagine a licentious party with the “cool parents” there tacitly endorsing drinking.

          • Wow. This took a lot of time. I retracted my statement once I saw the damage assessment. That was sloppy reading on my part — my bad. I still wouldn’t use this picture as conclusive evidence. Everyone uses red cups — whatever.

  5. The question here is not only one of ethics in an elected public official (that’s gone already!) but that of the moral responsibility of adults and parents in regard to children. When you allow kids to party and drink themselves silly without any attempt at supervision or moderation, what are the inevitable consequences? Even if wholescale property destruction, unwanted pregnancies and death on the highway are somehow avoided, what does this precedent set in those young minds as far as the future is concerned? Bad behavior in kids- unchecked- equates more and worse by young adults down the road. That, in turn, devolves into tragedy; both to those former children and to those who are unfortunate enough to encounter them.

    Parenting is the most central and important job in any adult’s life. The shape of those children’s future lives and that of the nation they will inherit hangs in the balance with each parental decision. Good parenting results in good children who, in turn, become good parents to their own children when the time comes. Bad parenting often results in a multi-generational curse. That curse was evident in that “Animal House” orgy described.

    If, like the fictional Senator Blutosky, Attorney General Gensler seeks to cruise along to ever higher office uncaring of his past deficiences, it’s the duty of the citizens to curtail it- immediately. A man who looks the other way when kids- including his own- engage in mass wild behavior (and while his state’s sitting Attorney General!) has no business in public office in any capacity.

    • This is the stupidest discussion I have ever read. First, there is not a parent in the world who has not found himself or herself in this same situation. And I do not know very many parents who have turned their children in for engaging in what appears to be at best a relatively mild “wild” party. Second, has everyone gotten to be such an old f*rt that they h ave completely forgotten what it is like to be a teenager and go a beach party? Compared to the generations of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, this has to be one of the tamest “wild” beach parties I have ever seen. Oh I see, those of you who were wearing the lampshades at last year’s Christmas party and can’t figure out why your boss keeps giving you that all-knowing look, you know that an attorney general ought to be so perfect such that this is proof that Doug Gansler’s entire record — which is formidable and very strong and has very little to do with moronic stories like this one repeated ad nausea-um to confuse you about WHO DOiUG GANSLER really is and what his public record has been — not some dumb babysitting existence which really is personal and really does not belong in the press at all, you just know that this is proof that everything else DOUG GANSLER has ever done is rendered moot and meaningless because you absolutely fascinated by idiocy and bored to death by real issues of substance and public policy that really impact your and future and mine because you just know.

      Well here is what I know. This is the dumbest side show to distract you from have ever seen. This hatchet job is just divide and conquer and on the dumbest scale I have ever seen. If this is the most the opposition can “get” on Doug, I’d say that is proof it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans …

      Listen, if the police have something criminal to charge to bring against Doug or anyone else at this event or in connection with this event, let them do so right now. Otherwise, bull is bull and we aren’t buying

      • Wow, this is a true cornucopia of wretched rationalizations! Shall I make it a comment of the day, to show how so many people analyze a story like this? Would that be unfair? I’m really tempted.

        • “Awww… shucks. EVERYBODY does it.”- Bill Clinton (alleged)

          There was a time, Ricketty Rocket, when responsible parents monitored their children’s behavior. Parties and activities were sponsored and chaperoned by adults. Young people weren’t left to themselves to go wild and wreck their lives or the lives of others. You may find that hard to believe from your own upbringing, but it’s true. And parents who understand the concept of being parents still do so.

          Those who, like yourself, can’t fathom this or are disparaging of the meaning of “character” when it comes to one of their own political leaning are as unworthy of public trust as this Gansler guy is. If you disregard the most basic of all adult duties, you can hardly be trusted with public office.

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