The subject of Congressional ethics has been a topic of considerable discussion in the media recently in view of the latest round of scandals that surround the institution.
We asked readers to respond to several questions on "Congressional ethics." Here is a summary of the responses for 1000 readers. Some of the percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.
How would you rate the performance of Congress as an institution?
highly successful: 1%
barely passing: 27%
not sure: 0%
Should Congress pass legislation to limit and/or require disclosure of contributions from lobbyists to Congress?
not sure: 2%
Does Congress as an institution have an ethics problem?
yes: 96%no: 1%not sure: 2%other: 0%
Is there an ethics problem within the Congressional delegation (2 senators and House Representative) who represent your district where you reside?
yes: 44%no: 14%not sure: 40%other: 1%
In short, there is no doubt that readers think there is a problem with Congress. The vast majority think that Congress is not ethical; that Congress should pass legislation to limit the power of lobbyists over elected representatives; and that Congress as an institution does not perform at an acceptable level.
As other polls have demonstrated in the past, many people have strong negative reactions to Congress as an instituion. They may still have strong negative feelings about their own elected representatives but they are not as negative about their own representatives as they are about Congress as an institution.
The most frequent comments from readers was that there should be term limits; that Congress should not be above the laws they pass for everyone else; and that the way to tell if a Congressman is lying is by whether his (or her) lips are moving.
In other words, those working for the executive branch of government have an extremely low view of our elected representatives. Moreover, what is more striking, and more discouraging, is that many readers feel there is little that can be done about what they view as dishonorable conduct from Congress. Unfortunately, there were virtually no positive comments about Congress. The most positive comments were along the lines of "No publicity has yet come out about representatives from my district being associated with the recent scandals."
Here is a sampling of the hundreds of comments submitted by readers:
An air traffic system specialist from the FAA in Longmont, Colorado writes:
"Would like to see improved personal integrity of Congress. Government politics have become so corrupt and dishonest it is truly disheartening."
An engineer from the FAA in Chicago, IL has this suggestion:
"Congressmen (and women) are only in power to line their own pockets. They have no concern for the common person, except to get their vote next election to stay in power…. I say vote them ALL out, and let’s start with a fresh batch. Show them that Americans are not apathetic, and we mean business. "
A retired federal employee from the USDA in Vermont does not like the term Congressional ethics:
"Don’t even put ethics and congress in the same sentence….career thugs works…."
An HR specialist from the Army in Alexandria, VA has this view:
"It is a well known axiom that a politicians first and foremost job is to be reelected. To do this a congressman has to raise over $15,000 every day they are in office to support their bid for relection. How can anyone rationally believe a politician would seriously consider jeopardizing the entitlements they believe are theirs by right? If politicains were required to identify their largest contributors, at least we would know who they really represent."
A contracting officer from Scott AFB thinks Congressmen pander to ensure being re-elected:
"Congress has forgotten why they were sent there in the first place (to serve the people!). Some of them have made it a full time job striving to become ‘re-elected’ rather than focusing on the real issues at hand. The pandering, sound bite of the day does not cut it with me."
An information releases specialist with DoD in Harrisburg, PA wants harsher penalties for misconduct:
"Congress needs to understand that they are ‘nobody special.’ The American people employed them with a trust value. They are just regular individuals and should be treated as such. Royalty has long been removed from this country. "
A public health advisor from the CDC in Atlanta cites examples of why he does not respect elected representatives:
"Many men and women in congress believe they are above the law. Look at the antics of Patrick Kennedy (D), Bob Ney (R), Cynthia McKinny (D), and Tom Delay (R). In spite of their cover stories being evasive and full of holes, their loyal followers always seem willing to give them a pass, no matter what they do."
This management analyst from the FAA in Washington, DC says we have a "bribeocracy":
"It’s not a government for the people but on for those that bribe, I mean lobby on the hill. We the people are used to put officials in office and after that the constituencies change to those with the money not those who voted. But then what can you expect when either party can be voted into office and then change parties on a whim essentially voiding the votes of those who placed them in office, how arrogant can you be, and face no problems after doing so. Democracy? No! Republic? No! Bribeocracy? "
An employee relations specialist with the Defense Logistics Agency in Columbus, OH writes:
"I think our senators and congressman are too beholding to special interest groups and no longer represent all the people. This results in gridlock and a poorly functioning legislative branches which I find increasingly more intolerable."
An air traffic controller from DoD in Tacoma, WA says simply:
"Liars and cheaters."
A manager from HUD in Washington says Congressmen are treated differently:
"As a federal employee, if I acted in the same manner as congress, I would be fired. I am required to provide a budget, defend my budget, and spend NO MORE than my budget. I also don’t get a pass for drunk driving, sexual harrassment, or other minor legal problems."
A human resources assistant from Placerville, CA thinks at least one representative from his district is in trouble:
"My congressman had a close relationship with Jack Abranoff. His wife’s company takes in the campaign contributions and keeps 15% of those funds. He doesn’t see an ethics problem with this, I do."
An HR specialist from Sacramento, CA is disgusted:
"I have never, ever been more disgusted in my life at the sickening spending on pork barrel projects. They spend as if they think money grows on trees and that we have no deficit and no debt."
A group manager from the Internal Revenue Service in New York argues in favor of term limits:
"I believe term limits should apply to both senators and representatives. The longer members stay in their position the bigger the ethics problems become."
And, speaking of term limits, a retired NASA executive from Huntsville, Alabama says there is only one way to get term limits for Congress:
"The American people are held captive by a corrupt institution, the United States Congress. Polls consistently show that large majorities want significant changes in Congress–but it is up to Congress to make the changes, which it is obvious they will not do as it would undermine their nice setup. Term limits; restrictions on gifts from lobbyists; at least a good reporting system so we can more easily figure out which Congressmen are on the take; restrictions on pocketing excess campaign contributions; and the list goes on. These are things the polls show that the American people want. But, Congressmen don’t. It’s time for the states to take over–if enough state legislatures pass a resolution demanding a constitutional convention for the purpose of considering an amendment to impose term limits on the Senate and House, Congress would be pushed into acting to put such an amendment before the states for a ratification vote. Because, after all, the last thing Congress would want to see is the actual convening of a constitutional covention, which can happen under the Constitution if the states call for it."
Thanks to all readers who took the time to vote in this recent poll.