Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption

Front Cover
Brookings Institution Press, Jul 26, 2000 - Political Science - 267 pages

More members of Congress have been investigated and sanctioned for ethical misconduct in the past decade and a half than in the entire previous history of the institution. But individual members are probably less corrupt than they once were. Stricter ethics codes and closer scrutiny by the press and public have imposed standards no previous representatives have had to face. Dennis Thompson shows how the institution itself is posing new ethical challenges, how the complexity of the environment in which members work creates new occasions for corruption and invites more calls for accountability.

Instead of the individual corruption that has long been the center of attention, Thompson focuses on institutional corruption which refers to conduct that under certain conditions is an acceptable part of the job of a representative. Members are required to solicit campaign contributions, and they are expected to help constituents with their problems with government, but some ways of doing these jobs give rise to institutional corruption. The author moves the discussion beyond bribery, extortion, and simple personal gain to delve into implicit understandings, ambiguous favors, and political advantage.

Thompson examines many major ethics cases of recent years. Among them: the case of David Durenberger, accused of supplementing his income through book promotions; the case of the Keating Five, accused of using undue influence with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board on behalf of Lincoln Savings and Loan owner Charles Keating; and the case of House Speaker James Wright, accused of several offenses.

Thompson shows why neither the electoral process nor the judicial process is sufficient and argues for stronger ethics committees and the creation of a new quasi-independent body to take over some of the enforcement process. He offers more than a dozen recommendations for changes in the procedures and practices of ethics in Congress.

The book features a listing of ethics charges, classified by type of corruption, considered by Congress from 1789 to 1992.

Selected by Choice as an Outstanding Book of 1995

 

What people are saying - Write a review

ETHICS IN CONGRESS: From Individual to Institutional Corruption

User Review  - Kirkus

A lucid perspective on the state of congressional ethics by Thompson (Political philosophy/Harvard). At a time of rock-bottom public confidence, Thompson finds that the perceived rise in congressional ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

Introduction
1
Purposes of Legislative Ethics
10
Personal Ethics and Legislative Ethics
11
The Priority of Legislative Ethics
16
The Scope of Legislative Ethics
18
Principles of Legislative Ethics
19
Legislative Ethics and Institutional Corruption
24
Dynamics of Legislative Corruption
26
Favoritism
80
Institutional Consequences of Constituent Service
84
Limitations of Legal Standards
88
Limitations of Ethical Standards
90
Toward Stronger Standards
93
Corrupt Connections
102
Corrupt Motives
103
Mixed Motives
108

The Elements of Corruption
28
The Individual Corruption of David Durenberger
34
The Institutional Corruption of the Keating Five
37
The Diverse Corruptions of James C Wright Jr
43
Gains of Office
49
General Offenses
52
Conflicts of Interest
55
Perquisites of Office
60
The Imperatives of Political Gain
65
Ambition and Independence
69
Fairness to Colleagues Challengers and Congress
72
Services of Office
77
Undeserved Service
78
ShortCircuiting the Democratic Process
113
The Root of Some Evil
115
The Importance of Appearances
124
Tribunals of Legislative Ethics
131
The Deficiencies of SelfDiscipline
132
Letting Voters Decide
137
Letting Courts Decide
143
Strengthening the Ethics Committees
147
Conclusion
166
Charges of Ethics Violations Considered by Congress 17891992
182
Notes
191
Index
239
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page v - The President bears final responsibility for the decision to publish a manuscript as a Brookings book. In reaching his judgment on the competence, accuracy, and objectivity of each study, the President is advised by the director of the appropriate research program and weighs the views of a panel of expert outside readers who report to him in confidence on the quality of the work. Publication of a work signifies that it is deemed a competent treatment worthy of public consideration but does not imply...
Page v - It is the function of the Trustees to make possible the conduct of scientific research, and publication, under the most favorable conditions, and to safeguard the independence of the research staff in the pursuit of their studies and in the publication of the results of such studies. It is not a part of their function to determine, control, or influence the conduct of particular investigations or the conclusions reached.

About the author (2000)

Dennis F. Thompson, the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and director of the Program in Ethics and the Professions at Harvard University, is the author of Political Ethics and Public Office (Harvard, 1987).

Bibliographic information