Senate Probe Spotlights Use of Influence Ethics Experts Call for Clear Standards on Proper vs. Improper Intervention. KEATING FIVE HEARINGS
Robert P. Hey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 Turkey.
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 intervention. …