Political ethics are a set of codes of behavior pertaining to political activities. Like other ethical systems, they balance the needs of situations with ethical questions. Ethics are a topic of study among academics, as well as legislators. Many nations have laws addressing specific ethical issues in politics with the goal of providing people with clear guidelines for behavior in particular situations. Numerous books have been published on this subject, including historical overviews illustrative of how how approaches to ethics have changed over time.
Politics can involve a wide variety of ethical issues, ranging from accepting campaign financing to balancing the conflicting needs of a constituency. Politicians can struggle with ethical dilemmas every day as they struggle to run a campaign or a legislative office fairly and with the best interests of the public in mind. Political ethics provides a framework for evaluating choices and making a decision based on fairness and reasonable behavior, as well as previous precedents.
By law, certain political activities are regulated to prevent ethical dilemmas or to dictate how politicians should behave. Politicians are, for example, required to disclose donations to the public in order to allow people to know who is influencing a politician or campaign. Likewise, politicians are barred from accepting certain types of gifts and must comply with laws pertaining to the conduct of campaigns and other political business.
Other political ethics are not spelled out as clearly, but are still an important part of the political consciousness. Politicians have unspoken rules they follow when interacting with each other and members of the public, including rules about treating people with respect and courtesy. Political ethics may be called into question, as when candidates challenge each other on activities deemed unethical or when individual citizens make choices about candidates they want to support on the basis of candidate behaviors.
On an academic level, political ethics is studied by political science and foreign policy students to learn more about the systems underpinning the government and its operations. Understanding how ethics work, what kinds of laws have been passed to regulate political activity, and how politicians behave during ethical dilemmas can be an important part of developing an understanding of the political system and proposing reforms. Political ethics is also important to people like campaign managers and press secretaries, as people must be alert to ethical issues from within their own offices, as well as violations of ethics committed by other politicians.