Criticism of the ethics of Congress has never been more persistent. Yet as most informed observers maintain, the integrity of individual members has never been so generally creditable. Members are understandably wary of more ethics regulation, but the press and the public are reasonably suspicious of the current process in which members judge each other. In the confusing cycle of charges and countercharges that ensues, Congress is increasingly distracted from its legislative business, and public confidence in its capacity to govern is eroded.
In this systematic study of ethics in the contemporary Congress, Dennis Thompson argues that problems of ethics call for new ways of thinking about legislative misconduct and new procedures for dealing with it. He urges the press, the public, and Congress to pay less attention to individual corruption and more to institutional corruption--conduct that is closely connected with the responsibilities of office, such as raising campaign contributions and helping constituents resolve problems with government. He counsels us to move the discussion beyond a focus on bribery, extortion, and simple personal gain and explore the world of implicit understandings, ambiguous favors, and political advantage.
The author comes to the subject of congressional ethics as a political philosopher known for his contributions to democratic