Gains of Office
Members . . . should not seek private gain from public office.
The commandment against seeking private gain from public office, prominently proclaimed on the first page of the House Ethics Manual, expresses one of the oldest principles of the ethics of public office.1 At least since Cicero, it has been "beyond debate that officials of the government are relied upon to act for the public interest not their own enrichment."2 But what exactly the principle prohibits is not so clear, and its ambiguities are the source of many of the problems in implementing legislative ethics in our time. Some kinds of gain from holding office are worse than others, and some are not improper at all. In particular, the pursuit of political gain is a necessary and desirable part of the American political system. Legislative ethics needs to attend to these differences because different kinds of gain call for different kinds of standards and procedures.
Nearly three-quarters of the charges of violating ethical standards that Congress has officially considered qualify as cases of individual corruption, all of which have involved some kind of personal gain.3 The gain most commonly comes in the form of financial