By:  LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.

As the media releases reports of Governor Mark Sanford confessing to an extramarital affair, my reaction is one many of you may share - what's with all the politicians and affair stories these days?  So I thought about it...   Sure, a lot of men have affairs.  We hear about these ones in the media because politicians are public figures.  Should we take a look at our outrage over it?  Is it any of our business what happens in a marriage or other relationship?  Well, I think what it comes down to is integrity.   Breaking promises is a big deal.  Covering up betrayal is even bigger.  Not only does integrity matter (period), but those who hold public office have a responsibility to their constituents and to their party of honesty and integrity.  To the extent that having an extramarital affair (and covering it up) isn't consistent with the qualities of honesty and integrity, then the public has a legitimate interest in the story.

What about privacy rights?  Well, public figures don't enjoy as many legal rights to privacy as the average person enjoys.  There is an aspect of privacy law that prohibits the unlawful public disclosure of private facts.   This aspect of privacy law deals with information about a person that is embarrassing or otherwise "private," and which a reasonable person would consider publication of to be highly offensive.  Even if the information is true - most states allow you to sue someone for publicizing private information about you.  For example, publicizing that your neighbor is an alcoholic, or publicizing information about their sex lives, would probably expose the publisher to liability for publication of private facts.    When it comes to public officials, however, the courts tend to view information about them as matters of legitimate public concern, such that publicizing information about their private lives doesn't amount to invasion of privacy liability.

Knowing all of this, some might wonder why do politicians continue to have - and hide - extramarital affairs... at least while they're in office?  I guess if it were that simple, then it wouldn't happen?  Would love to hear your thoughts on this...

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