Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about political candidates courting bloggers. Though the article was a bit shallow, I was glad to see the Chronicle recognizing the influence of bloggers on politics, and even happier to see my friend Sean from BearFlagBlue interviewed for the article.
The article opens with this story:
Dennis Herrera is running for re-election as San Francisco’s city attorney and loudly rumored to be eyeing the mayor’s office down the road. So a few weeks ago, he invited about a dozen influential folks to a local restaurant for drinks (on his campaign’s tab) and some face time. Those folks were local bloggers.
At first, I thought, great, this is really smart on Dennis Herrera’s behalf. He must have some savvy staffers. But then I thought about the fact that bloggers were accepting drinks from a candidate they hadn’t endorsed. I’m not suggesting that these bloggers would be influenced by a few drinks and would be more likely to endorse because of this, but I’m not sure that this kind of behavior fits into my own blogger code of ethics.
The more I thought about it, and talked to others about it, the stickier the issue became. I racked my brain and realized that though I’ve never accepted a drink (or anything else) from a political candidate, I’d certainly allowed elected officials to buy me drinks without thinking twice. I do write about some of these officials, and of course most of them are likely to run for re-election or another office in the future.
There’s also the issue that bloggers, unlike journalists, usually don’t get paid for our work. And for all of the bloggers I know, time is a very precious thing. So then maybe that makes it ok to accept a drink from a political candidate who’d like to meet with us – after all, they are requesting our time and often our advice.
On Friday, Brittney Gilbert addressed a similar issue – the Federal Trade Commission passed new rules that allow the FTC to sue bloggers who make false claims about a product that the bloggers received from companies for free. It’s clear to me that products and political candidates are a different, but these new regulations raise interesting questions about a blogger’s responsibility to be truthful and not swayed by free products or free drinks.
I have no final answer here. I’m pretty sure that I will continue to not accept free drinks from political candidates, but I’m not sure where the ethical line ultimately falls. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this tricky issue.