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What is Political Malpractice?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Political malpractice is an instance of negligent or unethical conduct on the part of an elected official. Like medical malpractice and legal malpractice, the political type involves a breach of duty, and a failure to offer professional services as expected. This negligence usually hurts the taxpayers and citizens whom the politician is accountable to. This term is often thrown around pejoratively in political rhetoric, with politicians accusing opponents of “malpractice” when they really just mean that their opponents have made controversial decisions.

There are a number of different kinds of political malpractice. The most innocent, though not necessarily the least harmful, is negligence. If a politician fails to fully review a bill, for example, and it later turns out to be a disaster, this could be viewed as negligence by the voters. Negligence is sometimes paired with incompetence, an inability to perform the job. When a politician fails to adhere to an expected standard of behavior, this can also be viewed as malpractice.

On the more sinister end of things, political malpractice can involve improper or unethical conduct undertaken deliberately. Accepting bribes is a form of malpractice, as are other activities which demonstrate favoritism to particular constituents or organizations. In some cases, this can result in criminal charges for corruption.

Citizens rely on their elected officials to advocate for them in legislative bodies, and to make good choices which will benefit their communities. When politicians fail to hold up their end of the bargain, this can have unfortunate consequences for the citizens. An accusation of political malpractice indicates that citizens are deeply unhappy with the way in which a politician has handled a situation, and it can threaten a political career.

In some cases, political malpractice can be the grounds for a tort suit. In the law, a tort is a civil wrong, and if proved, such a suit can result in fines and other consequences for the convicted party. When the citizens feel that they have experienced direct harm as a result of political malpractice, many nations allow them to bring suit against their elected officials to recover damages or remove those officials from office. Citizens can also petition their elected officials to lobby for the removal of a superior, such as a President or Prime Minister.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By snickerish — On Aug 28, 2011

@alfredo - I am not sure about it being a tort suit but here in North Carolina John Edwards was in a trial for charges of using campaign money to house and hide his mistress and mother of his child during his campaign.

I feel the same way - that many scandals are heard, but not as many suits!

By aLFredo — On Aug 27, 2011

Political malpractice reminds me of athletic violations regarding college athletics in that every one knows such violations occur but because they seem to be such common practice, only the wildly outrageous or obvious ones are prosecuted.

While I have heard of many political scandals, what are some political malpractice instances that resulted in a political malpractice lawsuit or tort suit?

By BoatHugger — On Aug 26, 2011

A couple of months ago, there was a huge political scandal regarding several senators. One of them was also the owner of a very successful car dealership in the town I live in. He has always been a kind and decent man. My husband worked for him at his dealership for many years.

We were very shocked to hear that he was involved in this scandal. Apparently, several senators were accepting "donations" from a group trying to legalize a certain type of gambling. In return for the generous donations they were getting, they voted in favor of the gambling bill.

I think it ended up that only 3 or 4 of them were found guilty of the charges. Fortunately, the local business owner that we know was acquitted.

By SZapper — On Aug 26, 2011

@indemnifyme - That is especially shocking behavior, especially from an elected official. Actually, I take that back. I'm not that surprised anymore when politicians behave badly.

I feel like every time I turn around I'm reading about some kind of political scandal or other. In fact, I might argue that opening yourself up to a sex scandal or something of that nature is political malpractice. Obviously if you're busy dealing with media attention you probably can't do your job properly.

By indemnifyme — On Aug 25, 2011

The mayor of the city I used to live in committed serious political malpractice about a year ago. She stole gift cards that had been donated for underprivileged children and used them for herself!

Once this shocking action was discovered, there was a trial and she lost her position as mayor. As far as I know she didn't serve any jail time, but I think she should have. Imagine a person who makes more than enough money to live comfortably stealing from needy children!

By chivebasil — On Aug 25, 2011

When I read the phrase "political malpractice" the first person that came to my mind was Jack Abramoff. Now, I know that Ambrmoff was a lobbyist and not a politician, but it seems like his misdeeds relate directly to the political corruption that plagues our system of government.

The influence of lobbyists extends into every corner of our government. There is huge potential for malfeasance on the part of lobbyists who lie, trick, manipulate or cajole politicians into making decisions based on the goals of special interests rather than the goals of the people.

By anon35366 — On Jul 04, 2009

How about suing for violation of their oath which they swear to "defend and protect" the constitution.--John Flinn

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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