Ethics and Morals

While the Federal Election Commission keeps at least a nominal check on the finances of presidential campaign committees, it is seen as an ineffectual agency.  There are also many areas beyond its purview, including ethical or moral transgressions by candidates either during the campaign or years ago.  Although the American presidential campaigns are often criticized as overly lengthy, a long campaign does make it more likely that a candidate's transgressions will emerge and be fully aired.  The media or another campaign or a party committee will usually see to that.  (Revelations do not always occur in a timely manner as the case of former Sen. John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign illustrated).  Some behavior may be perfectly legal, but not sit well with the public, and charges may be overblown or false, but damaging perceptions can still cripple a candidacy.


Public Financial Disclosure Form
Candidates for nomination or election to the office of President or Vice President must file a SF 278 "Public Financial Disclosure Report." [PDF]  This is a pretty complicated form; it comes with 11 pages of instructions.  According to the instructions:

"A basic premise of the statutory financial disclosure requirements is that those having responsibility for review of reports filed pursuant to the Ethics in Government Act or permitted public access to reports must be given sufficient information by reporting individuals concerning the nature of their outside interests and activities so that an informed judgment can be made with respect to compliance with applicable conflict of interest laws and standards of conduct regulations."

See: U.S. Office of Government Ethics page: 2012 Presidential Candidate Records

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
"Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests."

CREW has pursued a number of complaints against candidates and campaigns:

Jan. 27, 2012 - CREW Calls for Investigation into Discrepancies Betweeen Romney's Tax Returns & Financial Disclosures
Jan. 25, 2012 - CREW Files FOIA Requests for Gingrich Ethics Investigation Records
Jan. 24, 2012 - Gingrich Lies About His Past Lobbying Again
Jan. 5, 2012 - CREW Calls for Federal Investigation Into Gingrich's Lobbying Activities
Dec. 19, 2011 - CREW Files FEC Complaint against Gingrich Campaign Alleging Personal Use of Campaign Funds +
Nov. 4, 2011 - CREW Files FEC Complaint Against Cain Campaign and Prosperity USA
Aug. 25, 2011 - CREW Congratulates August Scondrel of the Month: Governor Rick Perry

- Herman Cain's campaign was derailed by allegations of sexual harrassment. Nov. 7, 2011 Allegations by Sharon Bialek and Response  |  Nov. 28, 2011 Reports of Affair

- Questions were raised about whether Newt Gingrich lobbied.  Newt 2012 released a fact sheet "The Gingrich Group and Freddie Mac" on Nov. 16, 2011 and updated on Jan. 23, 2012.
- Mitt Romney endured considerable controversy over his tax returns.