ONE of the key issues in the Senate Ethics Committee hearings
into the activities of the so-called Keating Five senators is the
propriety of intervention on behalf of constituents.
"From a study of past ethics cases and congressional literature
on the subject," says committee member Trent Lott (R) of
Mississippi, "the standard is clear that there is nothing wrong in a
senator meeting with a regulator. In fact, it's expected. The real
question is: `How far is too far?"'
The hearings, which resumed yesterday, are probing the actions
taken by five senators on behalf of Charles Keating and the firms,
including the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, that he
controlled. The five Senators are Alan Cranston (D) of California,
Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona, John Glenn (D) of Ohio, John McCain
(R) of Arizona, and Donald Riegle (D) of Michigan. Each maintains he
has done nothing wrong.
Members of Congress and political scientists say that intervening
with government officials is a necessary part of the job of every
member of Congress.
"Congressional intervention and the availability of intervention
demonstrably offset agency indifference, are a guard against
arbitrary, improper, and illegal bureaucratic decisions, and provide
the power of public pressure to require the nonelected official to
be responsive," says Senate Ethics Committee member Terry Sanford
(D) of North Carolina.
"Intervention is the essence of representative government, for
without it the citizen would have no recourse except judicial
action," he says.
In his opening statement last week, Senator DeConcini illustrated
from his own experience the range of cases in which a member of
Congress might intercede: a military officer who felt he had been
discriminated against; the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, with
nearly 5,000 employees in Arizona, that had not received from the
Pentagon a full complement of orders for Apache helicopters; Arizona
(and other) farmers who protested action by the Bureau of
Reclamation, and an American military family that was refused
permission to bring to the United States a child they had adopted in
Members of Congress receive many requests for help from
constituents - not only the powerful like Mr. Keating but also the
powerless. DeConcini says he and his office staff have intervened
for 75,000 constituents in 14 years. Senator Cranston says, "Some
days it seems to me like every one of my 30 million constituents has
a problem or a view and wants my attention."
Yet no broad agreement exists on the limits of proper