By David Hill - 08/09/06 12:00 AM EDT
The “Men of the Square Table” over at Miller Lite’s manlaws.com web site have promulgated almost 30,000 “man laws.” You’ve doubtless seen them on TV. Recall that Burt Reynolds and friends deliberated over this probing question: your best friend is dumped by his girlfriend; how long before you can ask her out? The man law answer: six months, but only if she is drop-dead gorgeous.
As they’ve fully answered most of these sorts of manly questions, I wonder whether it’s time for the Men of the Square Table to turn their attention to campaign protocols. Goodness knows someone needs to do something. If there was ever proof for this necessity, it’s the current Katherine Harris for Senate campaign and the behavior of former employees of her committee.
Before getting into the manners of campaigning, I have some apologizing to do. Last March, I wrote in this very space that Katherine Harris would be a good candidate. Moreover, I even predicted she would win a surprising victory. The logic of my contrarian predictions was (I thought) sound, but as the real-world results have rolled in, it’s clear that I was completely wrong.
Returning to campaign etiquette, let’s look at the state-of-the-art in campaign codes, the alter-ego of man laws. For most political operatives, the only arbiter of good taste that I know of is the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) Code of Ethics. Two provisions of the AAPC code are worth repeating.
“I will treat my colleagues and clients with respect and never intentionally injure their professional or personal reputations.
“I will respect the confidence of my clients and not reveal confidential or privileged information obtained during our professional relationship.”
So what has happened in the Harris campaign and why is it such an egregious violation of these campaign protocols? As you may have read or heard, the Harris campaign has experienced an unprecedented level of turnover. There have been several staffers at most every position, from campaign manager to fundraiser. Consultants have come and gone, too.
I have had no direct contact ever with any of the principals during this sordid mess, so all I know is what I read in the steady stream of clips coming out of Florida and Washington. The first waves of resignations were ugly, but no nastier than what you’d expect in a celebrity divorce. In particular, I commend the fact that I never once saw my fellow pollster Ed Goeas say an unkind word about Harris after his resignation. The same was pretty much true of strategist Ed Rollins, though reporters seemed to keep goading Rollins into taking mini-jabs at his former client.
But the second and third waves of staffers have not been so discrete. Now it’s full blown character assassination with former campaign employees “telling all” to any reporter who’ll listen. Resigned staff members, eager for their 15 minutes of fame, seem bent on portraying Katherine Harris as Miranda Priestly, the bossy, conniving magazine executive played by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” We’ve learned this week that Katherine demands her Starbucks hot (straight from the movie), that she yells a lot (ditto), and looks down on her employees’ intelligence (get an intellectual property lawyer on the line to sue these people for plagiarism).
One staffer has even gone to work for one of Harris’ opponents. Working for an opponent in the same cycle is so clearly an ethical lapse that I am surprised it’s not become more of an issue. I’ve seen only one press mention of the hiring campaign’s questionable principles.
I advise candidates to require that every campaign employee or consultant sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. Without the honor of campaign codes, it’s a campaign’s only protection from such indiscretions.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.