Plus, the work itself is often tedious and unrewarding. When a congressman gets federal money for a new road or bridge, he or she can send out a news release to let constituents know what is being done for them. But working on an ethics investigation, which is private, carries no political benefits. Committee members often must do their own legal research and write their own memos.
"I have spent more time on ethics than any other committee in Congress," says Cardin, who also serves on the Ways and Means and Budget committees. "Investigations can easily take 30, 40, 50 hours a week."
When the House began disciplining its own, things were a lot less complicated and standards of conduct not quite so high. The first case came in 1798, when Vermont Rep. Matthew Lyon spat on Connecticut Rep. Roger Griswold, who had cast aspersions on Lyon's military record.
Lyon wrote a letter of apology.
But after opening prayers one day on the House floor, Griswold struck back with a cane. Lyon grabbed some fireplace tongs and a brawl ensued.
The House quickly adjourned.
The next year, the House tried to expel Lyon after he was convicted in a Vermont court of being "a notorious and seditious person." But when it was noted that the people of Vermont had returned him to office, the motion to expel failed.
Pub Date: 12/24/96