How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical? [The First In A Special Ethics Alarms Election Year Series]

Mary Burke

Mary Burke

With this post, Ethics Alarms launches a  special limited series, “How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical?” or HCPCVFCTU for short. My goal will be to have approximately equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans named by election day. It should not be hard. Please send your nominations and suggestions to me at

The first candidate in the series: Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke.

A substantial portion of Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke’s published jobs plan for Wisconsin was lifted directly from the plans of three earlier Democratic candidates for governor in other states

Burke’s economic plan “Invest for Success” includes virtually word for word sections from the jobs plans of Ward Cammack, who ran for Tennessee governor in 2009, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (in 2008) and John Gregg who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Indiana in 2012. Buzzfeed has links to all of these, as well as Burke’s plan that uses them all.

Burke is blaming a campaign consultant, now fired, named Eric Schnurer. Apparently he also worked on the other campaigns, and engaged in self-plagiarism. Nevertheless, this is a pathetic excuse, and doesn’t relieve the candidate of full responsibility for trying to foist a phony plan on constituents:

  • This is supposed to be her plan, not a consultant’s off-the-shelf retreads.
  • Obviously, if it is substantially based on what was proposed for other states in plans as much as six years old, the “plan” has little to do with Wisconsin’s particular needs in 2014.
  • The “plan” proves that Mary Burke gave no thought to an important part of what she is allegedly running to accomplish in Wisconsin, and just rubber stamped something that sounded good by campaign fudging standards.
  • Is this the kind of employee Burke hires? Fakers and cheats? Is this the sort of oversight she provides? None? What is she doing, planning on running for President? Is this how much the public can trust her to be serious, substantive, attentive and trustworthy? Not one bit? It would seem so.
  • Then, when she is caught at being lazy, careless, dishonest, superficial and deceptive, Burke’s response is to deny responsibility, and blame someone else because she put her name on a stolen, recycled, vague and superficial “plan.”

How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical?


Source: Buzzfeed

65 thoughts on “How Can People Consider Voting For Candidates This Unethical? [The First In A Special Ethics Alarms Election Year Series]

  1. There is no such thing as original ideas in politics. This is done routinely by virtually every candidate, yes, even Republicans — it’s not unethical, it’s not even an ethical issue. Who cares where her positions came from, it’s what she’s advocating that’s important. If candidates were unethical every time they repeated an idea advocated by someone else at some point, they would have no positions at all. What’s really at issue is that she’s poised to topple one of your darlings. His smug, mean-spirited brand of Tea Party pablum is coming home to roost. Now, if you’d like to sink your teeth into a real ethical issue, how about addressing how the Koch brothers are pumping millions into Walker’s campaign to promote their own selfish interests with tax benefits to the oil industry and the wealthiest 1 percent.

    • Of course it’s unethical.

      1. This is an everybody does it excuse. Foul.
      2. She said it was her plan, and it was really a consultant’s plan.
      3. She said it was her plan for Wisconsin, and was nothing of the sort.
      4. Did you read her idiotic plan? That’s boilerplate. Any public policy plan that applies equally to any state and any year has nothing to do with public policy.
      5. Oh, fuck off. Who says Scott Walker is “one of my darlings”? I would have made this silly fraud the first winninr in this category if she came from the moon. (I’ll give Walker credit for properly exposing the public union scam, however.)
      6. The Koch Brothers have every right to promote what ever candidate they choose, just like you do, and using them as a bogey man just flags you as…wait…Harry? Is that you?

      Wow, what a dumb comment. And check the comment policies—that’s a political rant, and they are banned here until you contribute something substantive. Accusing me of being a Tea Party shill will get you banned. Go ahead, make my day.

      • I apologize for saying “fuck off.” No, I really don’t. This was a pure, knee-jerk, partisan talking point comment, of the sort that pollutes politics, thought and public discourse generally. The dirty campaign tactics being used against Walker are per se despicable, as is the vilification of him for acting to dilute the conflict of interest exploited by public unions, which most fair observers (like, say, labor-loving FDR) have admitted is an abuse of the union principle.

      • OK, I’ll make your day, Jack. Let’s talk ethics, not politics.

        Is the threat of banning anyone who disagrees ethical? My questioning of your supposition was quite clear; are you suggesting that this candidate is the only candidate who has taken other’s ideas and promoted them? You say that’s not an argument (just because everyone else does it), and I’ll grant you that. But that begs the question of why an ethical post on this candidate and not the multitude of others? You could have picked, say, Scott Walker who has taken, almost word for word, legislative language from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of corporate lobbyists who vote on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense. Where’s the outrage?! Is that ethical? He took language word-for-word. Plagiarism! Unethical! Isn’t that what you would say?

        What has led you to drop the f-bomb is that it was you, not me, that made the political rant. You got called out on it, and as the Ethics Alarm potentate you filter challenging responses, which is why I’m almost certain this post will not see the light of day.

        Ethics Alarm, indeed.

        • I love dudes who moan about hypothetical ban-worthy situations, then dial up their rhetoric with an “I dare you” tone just so when it happens they can then moan about how mean ole Jack banned them for no reason whatsoever.

          • Ouch! Whatever you do, don’t address the ethical issues presented.

            Such as:

            Is it unethical for politicians to take on the platforms others have proposed?

            Is it unethical to take on platforms that have been drawn up by others, even if you agree with them wholeheartedly?

            Is it unethical to claim you have a better way, even though others have proposed a similar or same way?

            Is it unethical to promote an agenda presented to you by groups with their own personal agenda?

            Those are the ethical questions.

            • Believe me, Jack will body slam your fallacies shortly. I currently don’t have the time to devote to it. However, since it takes less time, I am free to address your whining about “posts potentially not seeing the light of day” and hypothetical banning threats.

            • Ok, fine.

              “Is it unethical for politicians to take on the platforms others have proposed?

              Is it unethical to take on platforms that have been drawn up by others, even if you agree with them wholeheartedly?

              Is it unethical to claim you have a better way, even though others have proposed a similar or same way?”

              Nope, who said it is? If you assert that Jack said so, you’re in error, based on a hasty generalization. There is no issue with individuals assuming a larger ideology. When they fail to tailor that ideology to their specific circumstances, but rather copy-paste someone else’s specifically tailored plan, they’ve revealed they are incompetent, lazy, non-thinking, and in possession of an entirely different set of priorities than an elected leader ought to have. That is unethical.

              “Is it unethical to promote an agenda presented to you by groups with their own personal agenda?”

              Without vetting them (as she obviously didn’t) and without vetting the presented agenda (as she obviously didn’t) then yes, it is unethical. Or worse, she did vet them… in which case she tolerates and promotes lazy and unethical staffers… making her… you guessed it! UNETHICAL!

              Well, that’s the short version.

              • Wait a minute.
                Leaving aside the merits of the substance of the proposal, would it be lazy or incompetent of me to adopt the “postcard tax return flat tax” proposal? forbes promoted it. I doubt he came up with it. But, if that is what I want to promote, do I have to reinvent that wheel?

              • But why? Why is it unethical? If I’m running for office and someone I know, or someone I don’t know, lays out ideas exactly as I would, where’s the unethical conduct. I would agree that the laziness in not putting them in your own words is stupid, but surely not unethical. Are we going to base ethics on the ability of someone to reword?

                You’ve all got me wrong about Jack. I have read his posts, agree with some, don’t with others, and rarely comment. I want to be challenged in my thinking. He calls me out sometimes, and I him — that ethics debates folks

                I don’t even mind getting the ‘ol fuck you — that’s what makes the world go round..

                • Because even if you want to spin like a top and suggest a 6 year old plan for a different state is applicable today in hers, it’s still plagiarism. She took someone else’s platform and sold it word for wod as hers. It really isn’t that complicated.

                • Kevin – you’re transferring physical actions of ethics into rhetorical.

                  1 – Burke’s platform was plagiarized – a platform was taken word for word without attribution AND claimed to be written and thought of as original by Burke. That is unethical.

                  2 – Then, it seems, she shirked responsibility for it.

                  3 – After that, it’s the “I share the same thoughts, so it’s not stealing.”

                  This particular course of action is wrong. It’d be like me going: “I wrote this great opening for my novel, check it out. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Oh, somebody else wrote that? No they didn’t! No! No! Oh, I see, well, it’s common now and someone else wrote so I guess I can use it because…” and on and on.

                  Rhetorically? It is not wrong to share ideas and platforms. It is not wrong to agree or even quote from others.

                  What’s wrong is that there was neither attribution given nor did they acknowledge that it wasn’t their own.

                  Stealing and lying are unethical. Burke and associates crossed the line from sharing and referencing (ethical) to stealing with the subsequent blame-shifting.

      • Actually, apart from the political rant, Kevin has a point (which is to say Kevin agreed with my initial reaction, but I in no way adopt Kevin’s reaction as my own because I independently had the same reaction and am in no way copying him). If the candidate adopts it as part of her platform, it is hers, regardless of whether it was developed in a different place, for a different time, by a different person.

        That is what annoys me about liberals who tout the fact that Obamacare is based on a Republican plan (or Heritage foundation) or whatever. Just because a conservative developed it and Romney implemented it does not mean I have to like it!

        But, if you want to say that she has to originate her own ideas, then it would follow that it is unethical for any politician to use speechwriters.

        (Okay, which rationalization will come out first: everyone does it? That’s not as bad?)


        • Hiring a speech writer isn’t unethical, you’ve commissioned someone to do work for you, if that person commits plagiarism, that’s unethical of him, and if you don’t do due diligence on his work, that’s a risk you take, and you own some of the blame when you put it out as your position. I don’t think that anyone is taking offense to the idea that Democrats have similar policy views, it’s that the policies were sold as her personal views while being word for word identical to what someone else had already put out.

        • But it’s obviously nobody’s “plan” for Wisconsin jobs in 2014 if it’s lifted from completely different states in 2006 and 2008 and 20012. It’s a lie. “I’ve got this plan for Wisconsin jobs” suggests that a leader who knows the state and the problems of the state has designed a plan for that time and place, not “we have this boilerplate meaningless, focus group tested rhetoric from 8 years ago that we are foisting off as new because you all are idiots”

          If it was a genuine plan, why was the guy who wrote it fired? If Mary blames him, then she hired someone she admits was a dud and provided no oversight.

          • Speechwriters are there to express the candidates’ ideas.

            If Mary didn’t approve the “plan,” then she lied. If she now blames the consultant, then she either approved a bogus plan (and is accountable) or didn’t (and is irresponsible.)

          • Yes, but unethical? Did Scott Walker dream up his ill-fated “plan” from his own head? Did Sam Brownback in Kansas just wake up one morning and “eureka!” here’s my ill-fated answer? Of course not. They had friends, trusted advisers, other candidates all putting forth their ideas.

            So is the ethical test is how well one is able to scramble words and package them to sound like they dreamed it up on their own? Not a terribly high ethical bar.

            Does it really matter if “my” plan sounds exactly like Ronald Reagan’s plan? Does it make me instantly unethical if I “steal” his ideas? What if I think he was dead on right? May I ethically adopt them, or must I figure out a new policy on my own since he already proposed it?

            • Lies are unethical. Laziness is unethical. Plagiarism is unethical. Being lazy and dishonest about something as important as jobs is unethical. Accepting off the shelf crap created for yet another lazy candidate EIGHT YEARS AGO in another state and representing it as a Wisconsin plan is unethical. Hiring an architect of such a plan who is a fraud and charges you for work he has already done and you can’t even tell because you aren’t paying attention is unethical. Not taking responsibility for the hacks you hire and blaming them for what you put your name on is unethical. It shows a supposed leader who in fact knows nothing, has no ideas and is all about posing, posturing, and faking it. She got caught. What is there to like about such a candidate? Why would you defend any leader exposed as lacking respect for the public, management skills, competence and character?

              • And I and any objective individual without abysmally low expectations of leaders and potential leaders should find such a “plan” outrageous, just as I find your spinning it as if it is serious policy work desperate and offensive. Just as I find the reflex, lazy assumption that I object to slovenly policy position development and lazy, incompetent hiring as unethical because I give a tinker’s damn who gets elected as Governor of Wisconsin.Would I have written the exact same piece if Scott Walker had done this? Why wouldn’t I? I live in Virginia. Check my posts about the last GOP Governor here. Check my posts about the guy that ran to succeed him. Check the posts about the current governor. Where’s the bias?

                Calling me a tea party acolyte because I called this fraud on her fakery was as cheap, dumb, ignorant and obnoxious as Art calling me a religious fanatic on another thread because I wrote that having sex without effective birth control was irresponsible. There are 5000 posts here that prove that I am not either a tea party supporter or a conservative Christian—do your homework, or stop speculating on a bias that doesn’t exist

    • Is your problem with the Koch brothers that they are donating to conservative causes or is it because they are using their own money? Perhaps you should look at this list before you answer. Look at the top 20 donors and see how many are shaded in red. Then look at the ones shaded in blue. A difference between the Koch brothers and the groups in blue is that many of the groups in blue (10 of the top 20 total) are donating money for Democratic Party causes from union members who are required to pay as terms of their employment. Is that the problem? Do you want it to be illegal to donate money to Republicans, or do you want to make it illegal for citizens to be able to donate their own money?

  2. Jack,

    I must be missing something about this Wisconsin situation.

    “Obviously, if it is substantially based on what was proposed for other states in plans as much as six years old, the “plan” has little to do with Wisconsin’s particular needs in 2014.”

    Whoa. How do you know that? How is it obvious? Doesn’t it depend on how general, or how specific, the plan is? Are the circumstances so starkly different from one state to another that NOTHING in the plans that were proposed in other states is relevant to Wisconsin? (I doubt it.)

    Then there’s the obvious (or, what I think is obvious) political maneuvering inherent to the amalgamation of multiple states’ plans into one plan for Wisconsin. It’s a smorgasbord – a bunch of trial balloons. A politician worth her salt is going to give herself a way out, in case parts of the plan here or there start to become electoral liabilities.

    I don’t know a thing about the Wisconsin plan or even the plans it’s supposedly cobbled from. I just think you are leaning too hard on the fact that the Wisconsin plan is not an original, from scratch. If the ethical issue is only that the lady has not been above-board in explaining how the Wisconsin plan is a smorgasbord of recycled plans advocated in previous state-level gubernatorial campaigns, then maybe you’re on to something.

    But I just do not see an ethics issue in re-use of roadmaps in this case.

    • Read them, then get back to me. I provided the link. The plans were not chosen because they had anything relevant to Wisconsin in 2014. They were chosen because that’s where the words were used by the same consultant. The unemployment situation in 2006 and 2008 were different than they are now, obviously.

      • And by the way—come on. Tennessee? Delaware? Different demographics, different transportation issues, different budgets, different priorities, different industries, different tax laws….and on top of all that, 6 and 8 years out of date. Your argument is like saying an Apple CEO would be responsible offering a business plan to stockholders that he cribbed from Toyota, Mattel and a Safeway plans from 6, 8 and 2 years ago.

        • Hey, come on, that trial by jury stuff and habeas corpus stuff may have been good in 1215 at Runnymede but this is Philadelphia in 1787. Different place, different time; it would be unethical to try to apply that crap to this enlightened age!
          -Benjamin Franklin

        • Jack, you tasked me and asked me to get back to you.

          I was not arguing about plagiarism, or that plagiarism is ethical. I saw the plagiarism, before I argued with you. I agree that plagiarism is unethical. I was arguing only that it is ethical to use the same language as was used in earlier times in other jurisdictions, to stake out policy positions in later times in Wisconsin – if such language is useful for the same or similar political issues.

          I reviewed the article linked under your words, “was lifted directly from the plans of three earlier Democratic candidates.” The language plagiarized (again, no argument about that) is useful for a candidate for office in Wisconsin – and is relevant because the political issues then and now are the same or similar, or can at least be so construed. Certainly, in Wisconsin as well as in the other states, there are issues about: agriculture and farmers; small and growing businesses; attracting businesses; career development opportunities, and on and on.

          If I want something prepared for me to eat that is prepared by means other than a mere lucky combination of and preparation of ingredients, then if I like what I eat (or think I’ll like what I think I am about to eat), then I almost certainly won’t care if the chef plagiarized some other chefs’ recipes. The plagiarism is a separate issue that does not spoil my appetite and digestion.

          If I am a voter who generally trusts the candidates promoted by a particular party (not me! But anyway…), I am probably going to trust all the more a candidate in my state who is saying the same things that candidates from the same party have been saying in other states in past election campaigns, about issues that are the same or similar in the states.

          From another angle: Burke’s opponents could just as easily score points, using a point you made in reply to me. Why would Democrats sabotage themselves by making themselves such easy targets for touting outdated and irrelevant plans? Well, maybe, just maybe, the plans are not so outdated and irrelevant, after all. That is for Wisconsin voters, not you or me, to decide.

  3. First of all, there is more than a grain of truth in the saying, “to steal from one is plagiarism, to steal from many is research”. That’s because the latter shows internal evidence of selecting and editing from what is found by a wider effort, whereas the former is simply lifting.

    Second, it can quite easily happen that several groups are working along similar lines and become aware of each others’ work (e.g. the Higgs Boson, the HOMFLY knotting polynomial, etc.). When that happens, there isn’t a fundamental problem in using the most felicitous expressions among all the work, or in others recognising the genuine work of those who present it using other researchers’ material. For instance, I myself did some work on an approach to improving employment here in Australia, and when I checked around I found that two highly reputable economists had been working along similar lines with similar result, Professor Kim Swales of the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. and Nobel winner Professor Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University in the U.S.A. I would have had no compunction in using either the wording of either of them, but it made more sense to use my own for an Australian audience.

    • Word for word? That’s plagiarism, no matter how you spin it. And to charge a full fee to recycle work you have already done and been paid for for others as new and customized is theft.

      I can’t believe anyone is trying rationalize this.

      • Now, hang on. It cannot possibly be “word for word” unless it is drawn solely from a single source. When it is drawn from several, which is the charge here, even if individual passages are drawn from each, then there necessarily must be some selection and editing to form a whole from them, as well as research to find parts that work together in the first place – and it was that feature that I wanted to bring out as it appeared not to be present in this critique. Note that I did not and do not assert that this is very much by way of originality, which is why I only pointed out that there was a grain of truth in the saying I quoted (which is probably meant to emphasise the point with exaggeration). Still, it looks as though the candidate and staff did do some work of their own to get together the policy, and that it was not complete theft. Had they been submitting research work for a credential, say, they should have acknowledged their sources; but I don’t know that that is such an issue in the field of campaign planning.

        • Doesn’t matter. If I pull one paragraph from one author, two from another and one from a third, that’s plagiarism in any school in the nation, and should be. It will get you fired from any newspaper, and derided as a scholar. And it means that a potential leader is faking expertise and problem-solving acumen he or she doesn’t have.

          • It does matter, because the implied claim here – and what counts for this area, which is neither academic achievement nor work paid for by a publication – is “we have researched this and found it sound, so we are adopting it”. It is the very same reason that Microsoft’s claim to innovation is accurate despite it having invented practically nothing – it put real work into acquiring and putting out stuff that it never invented.

            Now, an academic who did these things would be on shaky ground, because the work presented is supposed to be a showcase of his or her skills. Likewise a journalist wouldn’t be finding out new stuff worth paying for at that rate, since his or her supervisor could easily have eliminated the journalist as a middle man at less cost. But the politician is saying, in effect, “this is what we have and will put into effect”, and is not in any way making a claim of originality – and it doesn’t need a claim of originality. If that claim were also made, that would not only be unethical, it would also be unwise as it would be giving a hostage to fortune. But why do you think there is any such claim, or any requirement for originality at all, any more than Microsoft needs to be inventive in order to be constructive (if, in fact, it be)?

            • But you are ignoring the facts, which allows you to idealize what was really going on. The consultant did the opposite of research. He didn’t seek new sources. He didn’t “find” anything. He simply used what he already had in his desk drawer. That’s not research. The candidate irresponsibly just let it go out under her name without critically evaluating it. You can’t concoct a credible scenario in which a serious candidate and genuine policy-maker would look at a policy document created as this one was, and say, “YES!!! That’s it! You have captured all my current thoughts and ideas on what needs to be done in Wisconsin to counter the anti-employment factors in this state in 2014. What’s that? This is simply a collage of the rhetoric you were paid to produce for candidates in different states years ago, with minimal changes? How fortuitous!”

              • Again, hang on. Let’s break that down carefully.

                The consultant did the opposite of research. He didn’t seek new sources. He didn’t “find” anything. He simply used what he already had in his desk drawer. That’s not research.

                But that’s precisely what I described in the other scenario, where something is lifted from a single source. That can be, and should be presumed to be, the outcome of just that.

                However, I was careful to point out that an effort that brings together material from several different sources almost cannot be obtained that way, but should be presumed to be the outcome of looking around to find other people’s products that match a theme. There is at least the originality of getting that theme, even if only because it’s going around in the researcher’s circle, and then there is the effort of pulling it all together. And that’s what looks like the case here – which doesn’t match that condemnation (unless, as you suggest, this researcher worked on it earlier, which I will address further down). That’s not much that’s new, and not much that’s additional work, but it is something, and as I also pointed out, that’s anyway not really a consideration for this particular area, a political campaign (which I will also address further down).

                The candidate irresponsibly just let it go out under her name without critically evaluating it.

                As I pointed out above, that would indeed be irresponsible for (say) an academic like a historian writing a book using a graduate student to research the sources, or an editor paying a journalist the going rate when the material could be got from the cuttings department – but, here, it’s a candidate putting forward a policy. For that, the test is whether the candidate judges it a sound policy that can make the cut of helping the candidate get elected to put it through. It’s a fitness for purpose thing, and its origins don’t really matter as they don’t reflect discredit on any candidate but one who made an entirely unnecessary claim to have the wisdom to think of it personally, a claim to inventive genius. Did this candidate do that?

                You can’t concoct a credible scenario in which a serious candidate and genuine policy-maker would look at a policy document created as this one was, and say, “YES!!! That’s it! You have captured all my current thoughts and ideas on what needs to be done in Wisconsin to counter the anti-employment factors in this state in 2014. What’s that? This is simply a collage of the rhetoric you were paid to produce for candidates in different states years ago, with minimal changes? How fortuitous!”

                Are you suggesting that this material was, in fact, the original creation of the staffer, done at various other times and places for various other campaigns, and got into the staffer’s hands that way? For if that is the case, there is no plagiarism at all, and not even the ethical problem of an employee taking away proprietary business information he or she was paid to produce. Then “a serious candidate and genuine policy-maker would look at a policy document created as this one was, and say” instead:-

                “YES!!! That’s it! You have firmed up and winnowed out all my general thoughts and ideas on what needs to be done in Wisconsin to counter the anti-employment factors in this state in 2014, giving us sound policy to sell in the campaign and carry out in office. What’s that? This is simply a collage of the rhetoric you were paid to produce for candidates in different states years ago, with minimal changes, selected according to our present needs? How far from fortuitous! How good you are at pulling it all together, how much past experience you have brought to the task, and how good a leader I am [not being backward in coming forward and not being one to hide my light under a bushel] to have put together and motivated such a team!”

                We can speculate a little more, for curiosity’s sake. Now, I know you don’t want to know about actual policies of that sort, because you declined my offer to tell you about any on another occasion. If, however, you do look into these particular policies, you may well find that they have some overlap with the sound ones I found, e.g. with the variants Professor Phelps worked out for the U.S.A. If so, you will not only have shown that they were not truly original to this candidate and staff, you will also have shown that there is a fair chance that they are the only realistic ones that could have been found. That means that there is an element of “inevitable discovery” to it all, and the only significance of the matching quotations is to show the pathway to that discovery on this occasion. That is, that the wording was chosen for its excellence, with its content being chosen for being best practice.

                • But you and I know that’s not what happened, so this is navel-gazing, correct? The consultant plagiarized himself to avoid doing the work of truly customizing a state-appropriate policy. He accepted money based on an amount of work he was presumed to have done that he didn’t in fact do. The candidate just read the results, thought they were good enough to pass the lazy attention of voters since who pays attention to campaign promises, and signed off. Then she was embarrassed by the revelation that this was just recycled, cut and paste, boilerplate. You are just spinning a justification for unprofessional conduct, sloth, cynicism and dishonesty. Well done. But why?

                • Plagiarism is stealing others’ ideas and claiming them as your own. It is theft and dishonesty, to say the least.

                  Plagiarism doesn’t change definition if more than one source is used. It’s still stealing. That’s the equivalent of saying stealing $1 is theft, but $10 is just borrowing and sharing.

                  Any scholar, student, or professional who plagiarizes has done something unethical – stealing. Occasionally, errors occur and are fixed.

                  It is not really a grey area here. Trying to justify plagiarism is unethical as well.

                  • Mr. Marshall – above reply is to P.M. Lawrence.

                    However, if I may weigh in on why Lawrence (and others) justify this: they’re ignorant of how attribution works, are plagiarizers/cheaters and need to justify their own actions, are malicious and believe the ends justify the means, or are malicious and believe that theft is okay as long as you don’t get caught, or you mean well, or “everybody does it”, or ethics (morality even) are relative to the situation based on feelings/intuition/opinion.

      • Jack,
        Correct me if I am wrong, but I hear that, in EVERY legislative session, someone introduces the ERA for ratification. I doubt the words have ever changed and I doubt that the original authors are still around. This has gone on since roughly 1982. That is 16 legislative sessions.

          • And every one to offer it is a plagiarist, right?
            And don’t just say that is different. Explain the difference. You put forward a thesis that many here have criticized and you accuse them of rationalizing plagiarism. We are not. We are pointing out problems with your blanket characterization of political practices as plagiarism. There are certain subtleties here that you refuse to take into account.

            • Well, if that’s your point, you didn’t make it. A Congressman or woman who proposes the ERA does not claim credit for it, authorship of it, or that it is a new policy being proposed by the Congresswoman. Nobody assumes it is. Nobody is fooled or deceived, and rights are rights, so the fact that the language is old doesn’t matter, and everyone knows that. What on earth would make you think that’s an apt analogy to a consultant pulling moldy policy plans for other states and other candidates from his trunk and getting a client candidate from another state to sign it because she isn’t paying attention? I see no similarity at all, and this isn’t politics as usual. If it was politics as usual, nobody would have noticed, including me. I know politicians. I know how policies are made by serious ones, and this is extraordinarily lazy, dishonest and irresponsible. Why would you, or anyone, want to excuse slovenly governing, manipulation of trusting but ignorant voters, and a continuing downward spiral of dishonesty?

  4. Ann Althouse just caught up to this story, and her sensible reaction:

    “The problem of plagiarism isn’t just the loss (if any) to the person who wrote the text. It’s also that the taker feels a need for that material. So even if Schnurer was only cutting and pasting his own text and thus doing himself a favor, avoiding needing to do additional work, there’s still a question of why the candidate was not the source of the ideas that were being presented in her name.”

    Yup. And may I add: of course.

    • OK, alright, so on and so on. But the ethical question is, does this issue merit rising to an ethical debate? Consultants, parties, think tanks, and all the rest, routinely distribute “model” or “sample” policy platforms. And candidates routinely co-opt them as their own. Truth be told, there is no way any run-of-the-mill candidate will have enough personal knowledge and experience to devise a unique, once-in-a-lifetime stellar plan. As I said earlier, there’s no such thing as an original idea in politics.

      So where does that leave us? Are we to demand that candidates only espouse original ideas, and if they take on the ideas of others, brand them unethical? Or do we find comfort in those candidates that are able to reword, scramble, and otherwise pretend that their ideas are original?

        • Yes, and you’re right, of course. But campaigns are more free-wheeling, are they not? It’s hardly a winning message to say “Jim Johnson’s plan for a better {any state here],” followed by “as adapted from . . . , ” or “with thanks to . . . ,” or “not my idea, someone elses.”

          Love your blog, Jack. Even if you’re occasionally wrong! (-:


          • Criminals are also free wheeling. Lets give them a pass.

            And if they don’t want to have to give attribution they need to come up with a plan that is tailored for the time and locale. It’s really that simple.

            • Agreed. And Burke and Walker and all the rest have tailored their platforms. I don’t think either of them to be “free wheeling criminals,” anymore than I consider FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and so on and so on. It’s politics; and it’s time we stop trying to take the politics out of politics.It’s what makes the world (country) go round. Free-wheeling, grab-your-balls (or other appropriate body parts), open, debate. Got a problem with Burke’s platform? God bless ya! But chances are, you wouldn’t have voted for her from the get-go..

              That’s what takes this from an ethical debate to a political one. None of us can totally escape our own biases.

              • But its not her platform. She’s faking it…there’s nothing real to like or not to like. That’s the point.

                Here’s Althouse’s well-expressed assessment:

                “This is my jobs plan,” she said, apparently proud of the document or needing to pretend to be proud of it. Is it too late now to generate a new document? Is the document that important? If it’s important, we need to believe that it is her document and that it represents her capacity and competence as an executive.

                To pull a glossy booklet out of your bag and declare “This is my jobs plan” and “It is the original work of Eric Schnurer” seems comical. Obviously, we all know that candidates have people ghostwriting for them, but you use them to write words that you can present as your own, and it doesn’t work to have to say I didn’t steal the words of those 3 other gubernatorial candidates because the truth is that all 4 of us are only repeating the words of Eric Schnurer.

                Burke is forced to argue that the glossy booklet still counts as her jobs plan, and the argument is that the ideas are good. They were, she seems to assert, filtered through her executive judgment and deemed worthy. She has gone out and understood what other people are doing, she has listened to other people’s ideas and determined which are good ideas and she has selected what is right for Wisconsin. But how do we know that? The text looks like a slapdash patchwork, with cut-and-pasted text used in 4 different states without any variation or attention to honing even the form of expression.

                That makes it quite hard to believe that there has been a careful sifting and winnowing — as we say in Wisconsin. Of course, that is something that could happen, but why would we think that it did… rather than suspecting that we’re getting conned by someone who’s stuck with bad facts and making the best of it?

                And again, politics has zero to do with it.

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