The United States National Legislatives’ Codes of Ethics
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The United States National Legislatives’ Codes of Ethics
A code of ethics acts as a guide that aids professionals in carrying out their business with integrity and honesty. Ordinarily, the code specifies the values and mission of an organization or a company, their expected manner of approaching business-related problems, their standards, and the organization’s ethical principles. Examples of common issues that may be covered by a code of ethics include discrimination, bribery, employee relations, social responsibility, and environmental concerns, among others. A code of ethics should be observed strictly by all members of an organization. Any breach of these guidelines is considered to be a grave offense that may culminate in temporary dismissal or termination. The common rationale behind a code of ethics is the notion that people’s behavior should be aligned to organizational values and goals for the sake of sustainability.
Ethical codes adopted by management serve as pragmatic necessities for the successful operation of an organization in an increasingly intricate societal setting in which morality forms a fundamental part, as opposed to promoting a specific moral theory (Mika, 2012). The code of ethics adopted by the United States national legislatures is no different. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives established and adopted a code of ethics that was applicable to all members with the aim of maintaining integrity in the government and to uphold citizen’s trust and confidence in their elected leaders (Frederickson & Rohr, 2015). The rules contained in the 12-point ethical codes of the United States House of Representatives are imposed upon all members, staff, and officers to reflect the establishment’s creditability.
Although the disposition of ethical codes of the United States national legislatures may seem relatively general, they are not so in their entirety. For instance, the code of ethics of the Senate requires elected members to explicitly declare their interests with regard to personal investments, business ownership, tax returns, income sources, indebtedness, deposits in financial institutions, professional services rendered, names of immediate family members, and so forth. Moreover, the codes of ethics of the U.S. legislatures impose additional restrictions on all members. Some of these constraints apply only during a legislator’s term in office, such as those pertaining to gifts received by a member or reimbursement for travel expenses (Frederickson & Rohr, 2015). Others restrictions may continue to be applicable even after a legislator’s tenure, such as the use of confidential government information and nepotism, among others.
The codes of conduct of both the House of Representatives and the Senate can be said to be a deliberate effort to restore voters’ faith and trust in a democratic system that is perceptibly faulty and inefficient at the very least. Over the years, citizens have increasingly become dissatisfied with the state of democracy, especially in developed nations. This multifaceted phenomenon was caused by issues such as politicians’ non-accountability and non-responsiveness, as well as the perceived lack of political efficiency among the masses. Indeed, Mika (2012) argues that by discounting citizens’ political desires and demands, political systems have continually resembled oligopolistic markets. The discovery of several graft scandals in some of the biggest and oldest democracies, in addition to the utter lack of responsiveness and accountability after that, further exacerbated the matter, making voters even more dissatisfied with their elected representatives and political parties.
Consequently, the loss of political efficacy resulted in the spread of discontent and cynicism. Politicians’ subsequent acknowledgment of the prevailing dissatisfaction culminated in the creation of ethics regimes as an effort to recuperate the public’s confidence (Mika, 2012). As such, legislators established internal strategies aimed at preventing legislative misdemeanors, as well as external procedures whose purpose was to publicize the set rules to the public, both as a sign of goodwill and to specify the limits of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
This brief history captures the underlying spirit of the ethical codes of the United States national legislatures. Specifically, the U.S. constitution vests legislative power on the nation’s Legislative Branch, Congress, which comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Even though the constitution, together with other laws, provides a guideline for appropriate conduct for senators and representatives, it fails to specify which behavior can be considered morally acceptable (Menzel, 2014). The rules set by the code of ethics do not abrogate members’ autonomy and discretion in determining how to fulfill their duties to the public. On the contrary, they guide members’ judgment and conduct under various circumstances.
The code of ethics of the Senate deals with issues ranging from public financial disclosure to gifts, conflict of interest, foreign travel, outside earned income, employment practice, and the prohibition of unofficial office accounts, among others. Specifically, members, officers, and employees are required to declare their income, assets, and liabilities to the heads of their respective employing offices. This includes those of spouses and dependent children. With regard to gifts, the code of ethics deters senators, officers, and employees from accepting gifts, unless such gifts are worth not more than 50 US dollars or cumulative value of 100 US dollars from one source. The code also discourages the acceptance of gifts from agents of foreign principals, registered lobbyists, and private entities that employ registered lobbyists or agents of foreign principals (Frederickson & Rohr, 2015). It lists several other restrictions related to the receipt of gifts by a member, officer, or employee of the Senate and their spouses and dependents.
In an effort to eliminate conflict of interest, the Senate’s ethical code deters members, officers, and employees from accepting compensation that would occur due to any improperly exerted influence due to his or her position in the Senate. It also prohibits all paid engagement in professional activities, employment, or outside business that may interfere with the discharge of official duties, unless such an individual has communicated the same in writing to his or her supervisor. Moreover, it bars members from influencing the legislative process for pecuniary interests, serving as board members in publicly held firms, lobbying other members, officers, and employees after leaving the office and negotiating private employment while still in office, among numerous other restrictions (Frederickson & Rohr, 2015).
The code of ethics for the House of Representatives is not any different. It also contains numerous restrictions on representatives’ behavior to reflect the establishment’s creditability. It requires all its members, officers, and employees to abide by the rules of the House of Representatives as well as those of its duly constituted committees. The ethical code deals in virtually similar issues to those contained in the Senate’s code of conduct, including conflict of interest, gifts, and personal finance. It deters members, officers, and employees from practicing discrimination based on race, color, gender, the nation of origin, religion, or age. It, however, allows members to consider individuals’ political affiliations and domicile (Menzel, 2014). According to the ethical code of the House of Representatives, any member that is convicted by a court of law due to the commission of a crime whose sentence is imprisonment for two or more years is required to cease participating in committee affairs or voting in House meetings, unless the presumption of innocence is duly reinstated, or he or she is reelected after the conviction. These restrictions and provisions, together with many others, are implemented, not only to create order in the House, but also ensure that members, officers, and employees of the House conduct themselves with respect, integrity, and wisdom as expected of them by the electorate (Frederickson & Rohr, 2015). It thwarts the potential erosion of public confidence in the government, thus maintaining political efficacy and stability within the country.
Closer scrutiny of the ethical codes of both the Senate and the House of Representatives reveals some astounding similarities in logic and practice. Firstly, the rules divide members’ responsibilities and accountabilities according to their critical functions in the nation’s democratic government. Specifically, representatives and senators, by virtue of their position, may serve several different but occasionally conflicting roles, such as representatives of their constituents, public officials, legislators, employers, colleagues, and reelection candidates. Secondly, despite the acknowledgment of members’ varying roles and responsibilities, codes of ethics do not give precedence to some restrictions over others (Condrey, 2010). As a result, the guidelines often leave ample room for moral dilemmas, some of which lack comprehensive solutions, as members work out the competing ethical requirements ingrained in the codes.
By and large, the codes acknowledge the representative role of Congress members, which demands public accountability and accessibility from the members. Accordingly, their activities are required to be readily and openly available for examination by colleagues and the public. The codes also help members to balance their interests against their responsibility to the electorate, including respect for public interests and upholding fairness. As public officials, members have a duty to respect the law in its entirety, the constitutional bases of their offices, as well as that of the United States government (Menzel, 2014). Therefore, the codes serve as a reminder to members of their obligation to protect the legislative process’ integrity, promote justice in employment, and foster fairness and civility in the electoral process. Only in this way can a government truly function and deliver its promise of improving people’s welfare and protecting their rights and interests.
A code of ethics is hardly a definitive guide to moral issues. No ethical code can anticipate all moral problems or provide final and precise rules that eradicate all uncertainty. This notion applies to the ethical codes of both bodies in Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. These guidelines only offer a basic solution to the most common and damning ethical concerns. However, given the dynamic nature of today’s society, new and more intricate matters are bound to emerge. In such situations, the codes surrender to the superiority of the constitution as indicated by the comments that follow each rule. Members, therefore, should rely more on their conscience and moral judgment in unclear situations but consult the codes regularly to enable them to serve faithfully as legislators and elected representatives.
Condrey, S. (2010). Handbook of human resource management in government. Place of publication not identified: Jossey-Bass.
Frederickson, H. G., & Rohr, J. A. (2015). Ethics and public administration. Routledge.
Menzel, D. C. (2014). Ethics management for public administrators: Building organizations of integrity. Routledge.
Mika, A. (2012). The Importance of Codes of Ethics. Hamburg: Diplomica Verlag.
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