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