Conflict of interest

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A conflict of interest is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial or otherwise, one of which could possibly affect the motivation or decision-making of that individual or organization.

Legal profession

A conflict of interest can arise when a party asked to impartially administer justice or mediate a dispute in fact has a vested interest in a dispute, or where a party's inside information into a dispute would color her judgment in an unfair manner. For example, a judge with stock holdings in a corporation which appears before her as a defendant must recuse herself from the proceedings; similarly, an attorney with holdings in his opponent's ventures must recuse himself, too.


Many nations have laws limiting conflicts of interest for government employees. For example, the United States has both state and federal laws addressing this subject. Some states have laws prohibiting the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements covering government employees on the grounds that if unions that are politically active also negotiate the terms of government employment, the result could ultimately harm taxpayers.

Conflicts of interest are inevitable. For example, every decision-maker has relatives, friends and neighbors and makes purchases and investments. Rules define at what point decisions involve the individual more than the typical citizen. For example, everyone uses tooth paste and breathes air. Yet, this fact does not prevent government officials from regulating tooth paste safety or clean air.

Journalism and wikis

Journalists are expected to disclose conflicts of interest and to not report on stories that involve friends or relatives. Yet, mainstream media values celebrity journalists who have friendships with political figures. Journalist and political figures meet and sometimes even get married. For example, Andrea Mitchell of NBC is married to Alan Greenspan, and Jacqueline Kennedy met John F. Kennedy when she was a photographer and he was a Senator.

The professional conflict of interest standards of journalism have not carried forward to the modern internet where anyone can write a blog or contribute to a wiki without regard to conflicts of interest.


A number of steps are used to prevent a conflict of interest from corrupting the ultimate decisions of the affected individual or organization.


The financial stake creating the conflict is sold. In some cases, time is provided to arrange for the sale.


Some laws require full reporting of conflicts of interest as they arise. Other laws require periodic reporting of all financial investments so that ethic officers can review them for possible conflicts of interest.

Blind trusts

A blind trust is created by an official to hold his wealth while he serves in office. The problem is that a wealthy office-holder has one or more investments which could create a conflict of interest at some point. The theory is that if an impartial, unrelated third party administers the office-holder's investments without communicating to the office-holder, then those investments will not create a conflict of interest. If an office-holder does not know that he owns assets, his decisions will not be affected by the ownership.