The reputation of Congress is not high, and anyone who writes about its ethics runs the risk of either encouraging the bashers or joining the apologists. I intend this book to give comfort to neither. Despite its stern subtitle and serious criticism, it is not another sweeping attack branding the institution as corrupt to its core. It was written in a spirit of respect for Congress and with an attitude of admiration for most of those who serve as members. Because of the conflicting demands that representatives confront, theirs may be the most challenging job in our democratic society, not only politically but ethically. They deserve our understanding and support as they try to meet those challenges. But they also deserve our criticism when they fail.
For reasons I present in the pages that follow, I do not believe that members of Congress individually or collectively have in recent years adequately met the important challenge of establishing and maintaining institutional standards of ethics. The criticisms I offer are intended to be constructive and nonpartisan. They are directed not only to members and their staffs but also to the academy, the press, and the public. We all share responsibility for the state of congressional ethics, and we should all take responsibility for trying to improve it.