Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption

By Dennis F. Thompson | Go to book overview

5
Corrupt Connections

This legislation [the Gifts Reform Act] says that for $20 and 1 penny . . . we are not to be trusted. . . . I am not for sale, and I do not believe others in this body are for sale.

When Senator Malcolm Wallop spoke these words against the proposed ban on gifts in the Senate, he expressed a view shared by many members as well as by many longtime observers of Congress.1 Most members do not trade their votes or services for gifts, he argued, so banning gifts is not necessary to prevent corruption.2 The premise of Wallop's argument is surely right: most members are not for sale in the way he has in mind. But the conclusion does not follow. Gifts and other contributions to members do give rise to corruption--not usually the individual corruption that marks the most notorious cases, but the institutional kind that emerges in the practices of everyday legislative life.

This chapter examines the connections between gains that members receive and the services they give. In the current practice of legislative ethics, connections are typically presumed innocent until proven to fit the model of individual corruption. Bribery is the paradigm. At the same time, it is presumed that individual corruption must be defined narrowly so that some common exchanges in politics, especially campaign contributions, do not turn out to be bribes. If these presumptions are not examined, many ethically questionable connections escape scrutiny. Legislative ethics should take a

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