Running Ethical — And Winning — Campaigns

Photo By Marc Johnson
Photo By Marc Johnson

I’m in the middle of a four-day bipartisan candidate training program that is put on by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. As far as I know, this program is unique. It is relentlessly bipartisan, for one thing. More important, though, is that it is entirely ethics-based. I was one of the people who helped design the program in the late 1990’s (when I worked at The Institute for Global Ethics) and I have been involved ever since.

The concept is simple: We take the very best political professionals in Virginia and ask them to come to the program and address their specialty. Over the course of four days, candidates learn everything from how to develop a campaign plan to fundraising, polling, direct mail, crisis communications, how to deal with media, image, and more.

But the difference is that we wrap this in a strong emphasis on ethics. The program begins with a half-day session  on campaign ethics (which I lead), and then after every few sessions, we bring the candidates together in small groups to debrief what they have been hearing. It’s been my experience that many first-time candidates become increasingly anxious about just what it takes to run a winning campaign. Being able to air potential dilemmas and think them through in a retreat atmosphere is invaluable and allows them to make better decisions later.

This work really allows me to bring together everything that I learned while working in government and politics, then at the Institute for Global Ethics, and later at The Harwood Institute For Public Innovation. It’s all about how to win, but win while running a race you can be proud of.

And, just in case you might be thinking that this is some nice foundation-funded program that teaches candidates how to be nice losers, nothing could be further from the truth. Candidates apply to be a part of it and pay to be there. Over the years, 300 candidates have gone through the program. 100 are currently in office. I’ll take those odds.

I am grateful for my friends at the Sorensen Institute who continue mounting this program for allowing me to be a part of it.

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