Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption

By Dennis F. Thompson | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Institutional corruption is not new, but it is newly prospering. It thrives in a political world where private greed mixes insidiously with the public good, where the difference between serving all citizens and serving supporters blurs, where public officials can evade responsibility for institutional failure. In the United States the executive branch has provided fertile territory for this kind of corruption. Many of the major government scandals of recent years have involved a large measure of institutional corruption--most notably, Watergate, Iran-contra, and the assortment of scandals commonly known by their initials, HUD, BCCI, and BNL.1

But it is in Congress that the problem has become most critical because the conditions that nourish institutional corruption are built into the very role of the representatives. To do their job, legislators must seek the support of private interests, provide service for constituents on whom they depend for campaign contributions, and defend their record to voters who care more about what they have done for the district or state than what they have done for Congress or the country.

These demands conspire with the growing complexity of the legislative environment to promote institutional corruption. As the job of the legislator becomes more complicated, opportunities for--and

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