Indeed, indictment can cause the ethics committees to stand down. Rep. William Jefferson was recently convicted of taking bribes. He was voted out of office in 2008, but the House ethics committee had suspended its investigation of him long before.
The same held true for Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican accused of corruption. Renzi resigned in 2008.
In the Senate, Ted Stevens, the long-serving Republican from Alaska, was convicted of corruption just before he was narrowly voted out of office in November 2008, without a word from the Senate ethics committee. The conviction has since been voided amid questions of prosecutorial misconduct.
While few members of Congress are expelled or held to account by their ethics committees, Brand said there are many instances of lawmakers being prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
And beyond the legal system, voters have the ability to assign guilt with their votes every two years.
"The ultimate accountability is through the political process," said Brand. "If people think the system has failed, they have the ability to make a decision at the ballot box."